Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Maduro vs. Maduro

Last Sunday Venezuela faced an election that, for the first time in fifteen years, was observed by the European Union. A historic event. However, the electoral call could not be the basis for a democratic process, because it is impossible for this to take place in a country where the institutions have been severely beaten, where the rule of law is in clear deterioration, and where there is no independent judiciary. There are no conditions for a competitive and free process.

Reports from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have repeatedly pointed out the brutality of the regime: kidnappings, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and assassinations that have led the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a preliminary investigation, a preliminary phase to open proceedings against high officials of the Chavista regime. Sad distinction: Venezuela is the first Latin American country in which the ICC has reached this point.

However, in this harsh scenario, the majority of the democratic opposition decided to participate after not having done so in the previous legislative and presidential elections of 2018 and 2020 due to an absolute lack of guarantees. Important social and economic agents bet on dialogue to improve some conditions that would allow greater guarantees. A broad sector of the country has decided to invest in hope, to bet that it is still worth defending a battered democracy such as the Venezuelan one. Without forgetting the totalitarian and cruel character of the regime, they have decided to dialogue -with the conviction that not talking is lethal for democracy- and to advance in some improvements in the electoral system.

The first and most important was the modification of the National Electoral Council (CNE), formed by five members, appointed by the government until now, which has become more plural: two of the five have been proposed by the civil society and the opposition, and its decisions have been adopted by consensus. It opened 60 investigations into the use of public funds in the campaign, although it lacks sanctioning power. This requires a reform of the electoral law.

Nor does it have the power to prevent the arbitrary disqualification of candidates, which does not only occur when they register. The Communist Party, which for the first time was running separately and not with Chavismo, suffered the disqualification of one of its most likely candidates three days before the elections. The disqualification depends on an administrative body that is not obliged to justify the cause; this arbitrariness cannot be appealed.

The CNE has also no competence on the judicial intervention of the parties: up to 14 intervened groups went to the polls, three from the opposition and 11 pro-government. Without an independent justice, the intervention is in reality a kidnapping by the regime.

The CNE has denounced unequal access to the media. More than unequal, the situation is clearly abusive. In Venezuela, there is no freedom of the press, and I would say more: there is no press. In the last few years, 300 media outlets have been closed. It is the only country I have visited where you cannot buy a newspaper, because it does not exist. There are only two free newspapers, loudspeakers and mouthpieces of the Chavista government.

The CNE has exercised its powers by prohibiting red points outside the polling stations, giving clear instructions on the closing time of the polling stations, and trying to guarantee that the candidates of the intervened parties could run in the different coalitions. The digital voting system has been subjected to several audits, one of them was clearly impartial and independent. The conclusion was that it could not be manipulated, that the results could not be altered.

This renewed Council is also the one that urged the EU to send an observation mission after 15 years without doing so, something supported by the opposition parties. The EU decision in no way affects the fraudulent nature of the 2018 and 2020 legislative and presidential elections. We did not recognize them, we will not. Nor does it alter the condemnation of the stolen elections of 2015, in which the opposition won the majority of the legislative assembly and could not exercise its powers, as they were usurped by the constituent assembly created by Nicolás Maduro. There is, therefore, no whitewashing of the regime.

The majority of Venezuela’s democratic opposition has activated its electoral apparatus after four years without going to any election. They have organized and deployed themselves throughout the country. They have tried to mobilize their voters to rebuild the value of the vote as a first step to rebuild democracy.

In a free election, there is uncertainty in the outcome and certainty in the rules. Unfortunately, last Sunday we knew that Chavismo would win and we had serious doubts about the compliance with the rules. Even so, the opposition won in votes, and if it had gone with unitary candidates it would have won a much larger number of states. There is a long road to democracy in Venezuela. These elections could be a first step, together with the open dialogue in Mexico between the government and opposition forces.

Rebuilding an independent judiciary is a fundamental pillar in the restoration of democratic institutionality to end human rights violations and impunity. These elections could be a first step in the reconstruction of the country, which only requires truly democratic presidential elections.

The EU took a courageous step by accompanying and observing these elections. I understand the reasons of those who did not want to participate, but I have no doubt that the people of Venezuela were waiting for us. They showed it to us in the polling stations and in the streets through demonstrations of respect, affection and affection towards the EU Observation Mission. Respect and affection are reciprocal with a brotherly people suffering the terrible social, economic and political consequences of a failed regime. Therefore, they deserve all the support, solidarity, and commitment to accompany them on the path they decide, that they build. Let us hope that the final report to be presented by the Mission in January -which will include recommendations to remedy all the irregularities detected- may contribute to this process.

We will continue to support the people of Venezuela.