Venezuela’s Opportunities for Democracy – Global Issues

guillermo aveledo

guillermo aveledo
  • Opinion by Ines M Pousadela (montevideo, uruguay)
  • Inter-Press Office

But the authoritarian government continues to dig in its heels. The opposition reasonably fears that the elections may be suspended or that the government will suppress opposition votes. Large-scale fraud cannot be ruled out.

All credible opinion polls show that authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro, who has been in power since the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013 and is seeking a third term, is deeply unpopular. But his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) controls the state apparatus extensively. The electoral authorities are not neutral and the electoral system is riddled with irregularities. A recent decision by the government-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE) has ruled out the vote more than five million Venezuelans who have emigrated.

If the opposition defeats the PSUV in the elections, the government will only accept the results if the costs of repression outweigh the costs of withdrawal. This means that some form of exit guarantees must be agreed. An agreement to coexist would also be necessary for a transition period that could last several years, during which PSUV supporters would continue to hold important positions and the party should be given the opportunity to reinvent itself as a participant in democratic processes.

Civil society in resistance mode

Venezuelan civil society has long played a key role in promoting democracy and defending human rights. But public spaces are increasingly closed, with activists and journalists routinely subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation, raids, arrests, detention and prosecution by courts lacking any independence.

Many civil society organizations (CSOs) and media outlets have closed, while others are self-censoring or have shifted their focus to avoid reprisals. Numerous journalists, academics and activists joined the meeting Exodus to other countries.

The government gives repression legal cover through a barrage of legislation and regulations, ostensibly on grounds such as the defense of sovereignty and the fight against terrorism. Lots of these, starting with the 2010s National sovereignty and self-determination rightstried to restrict access to finance to financially stifle civil society.

In 2017, the state introduced the Constitutional right against hatred, for tolerance and peaceful coexistence, known as the Anti-Hate Law, which imposes harsh penalties, including long prison sentences, for incitement to hatred or violence through electronic means, including social media. The law leaves the definition of what constitutes hate speech to government-appointed courts.

In 2021, the government approved a International Cooperation Act this includes a mandatory register of civil society organizations and an obligation to provide sensitive information.

The government has doubled in size in the run-up to the elections. In January, the National Assembly approved the first reading of a bill known as the Anti-NGO law, which would ban civil society organizations from engaging in vaguely defined “political activities.” The National Assembly is also currently discussing one law against fascismaimed at banning and criminalizing ideas, expressions and activities that it considers ‘fascist’.

A united opposition

The opposition has done that over the years found it difficult to present a united front and a credible alternative. But this is true changed in the run-up to the 2024 elections, with the opposition agreeing to select a single presidential candidate.

María Corina Machado emerged as the consensus candidate more than 90 percent of the votes in October 2023 primaries. More than two million people are said to have taken part, defying threats from authorities, censorship and physical attacks on candidates.

In a attempt To regain the initiative, the government tried to stoke nationalist sentiment by activating its dispute over Essequibo Guyana, a large territory in Guyana claimed by Venezuela. In December 2023 it held a consultative referendum about the issue.

A week after the opposition primaries, the Supreme Court suspended the process and the results. In December, Machado filed a writ in the Supreme Court, but instead the court upheld her disqualification. So on March 22, three days before the candidate registration deadline, she announced an 80-year-old academic Corina Yoris-Villasana as her replacement.

The government could not find any excuse to disqualify Yoris and therefore blocked the registration website. Until the deadline, the automated system had selective technical issues that affected opposition candidates.

After an international press conference in which Machado denounced the maneuver, support came from two unlikely allies: the left-wing governments of Brazil and Colombia. The CNE eventually authorized a twelve-hour extension to register its candidates.

As a result of further negotiations in April, all but one of the registered opposition candidates withdrew. The compromise candidate was a former diplomat Edmundo González Urrutiato which a modest few might object.

The role of the international community

Some countries, particularly members of the European Union (EU) and the US, have supported the Venezuelan opposition and urged the government to respect human rights and hold free and fair elections.

Everything the US does is open to the accusation of imperialist interference, but the EU has managed to put forward a credible set of proposals on how to hold fair elections. Recommendations from his report The 2021 regional and municipal elections include strengthening the separation of powers, abolishing disqualifications, conducting a public voter education campaign, enabling balanced media reporting, repealing the anti-hate law and ensuring that sufficient well-trained and accredited polling station officials are available on election day.

However, the EU’s role in the upcoming elections remains questionable. After the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning Machado’s disqualification, the leader of the National Assembly said the EU should not observe elections.

An important step in the right direction was taken in October 2023, just before the primaries, when government and opposition representatives met in Barbados and signed an agreement on the right of political organizations to choose their presidential candidates, an election timetable and a series of elections. procedural guarantees.

The day after the signing of the Barbados Agreementthe US government relaxed its oil and gas sanctions but warned it would reimpose them if the government fails to meet its obligations; in April 2023, it brought them back. The Venezuelan government immediately violated the first point of the agreement by initiating legal proceedings against the opposition primaries.

At the signing of the agreement, the US Secretary of State also said that political prisoners were expected to be released in November. Five were immediately released, but many more remain behind bars. Their release is an important demand of the opposition in the run-up to the elections.

Two months before the big day, everything is at stake. The unofficial campaign is in full swing. Machado and González tour the country promising orderly and peaceful change. The government has launched an aggressive smear and disinformation campaign against González. Merciless intimidation follows Machado wherever she goes. Local activists are routinely arrested after opposition rallies in their areas.

There are certainly many more twists and turns ahead. The Venezuelan government is used to ignoring international criticism, but things become more difficult when calls for respect for the democratic process come from left-wing Latin American leaders. They can play a key role in pushing Venezuela to hold real elections and accept the results. The logic of democracy is that sooner or later Maduro will have to leave. It would be wise for him to start negotiating the how.

Ines M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS lens and co-author of Report on the state of civil society.

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© Inter Press Service (2024) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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