The different stances from the OAS, the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and China on the appointment of the Venezuelan electoral authority’s board of directors will not fast-track a solution through the ballot box. Instead, they trace a long and agonizing path.
By Ingrid Jiménez
After a nomination process that began last March, the pro-government majority National Assembly – elected not in accordance with international democratic standards – announced the directors of the new National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, CNE). Three of them are identified with the government and two with the democratic groups.
The appointment of the electoral authority immediately generated reactions from the international community. The first was the Organization of American States, through Secretary-General Luis Almagro, who rejected the makeup of the body’s leadership in reason of the illegitimate origin of the National Assembly. The press release written in very harsh terms states: “In view of the appointment of a new National Electoral Council in Venezuela by an illegitimate National Assembly, the Office of the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) rejects and condemns these actions from the dictatorship that are contrary to the democratic rule of law and the political independence among the branches of government”.
The release even goes as far as to call the opposition groups that negotiated the new board with the government “collaborationists”. Its content is aligned with the position of the Unity Platform (Plataforma Unitaria), the opposition alliance headed by Juan Guaidó, who expressed his rejection of this appointment, and emphasized that the consequence of wanting to impose an electoral body would drag the country into a “greater disaster”.
The European Union was much more restrained. The spokesman for the European External Action Service, Peter Stano, maintained that “the European Union will continue to support the dialogue and the ongoing efforts to overcome the current impasse, by peaceful and democratic means, led by Venezuela”. Stan stressed that other conditions are also required to allow for a credible and transparent process.
The European Union has always been in favor of an electoral solution to the Venezuelan conflict. In fact, in 2020, it was negotiating with the Maduro government the postponement of the parliamentary elections for at least six months. The purpose of these negotiations was to obtain some conditions that would allow for a moderately free process.
On the other hand, the United States, through the Acting Assistant Secretary Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, stated that his country: “supports a comprehensive and negotiated solution to the crisis in Venezuela that addresses all aspects and conditions necessary for free and fair elections”.
This statement starkly contrasts the one issued just a year ago by Mike Pompeo. The former Secretary of State called for a negotiated, rapid transition to the Venezuelan crisis that would allow for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in 2020.
Following the change of administration, the U.S. adopted a more realistic stance. Everything seems to indicate that the Biden administration does not foresee a regime change in the short term. Its strategy aims at a gradual reopening of the game to allow elections – in this case for local officers – to be held with a minimum of conditions.
Despite the fact that the United States and the European Union denounced the irregularities of the 2020 parliamentary elections and disavowed their results, they do not rule out that the new CNE board of directors will facilitate the beginning of a more far-reaching negotiation. Among other expectations, would be the easing of the siege placed by the government on political parties and civil society, one that has so far prevented a more significant building of the public arena.
Maduro’s government seems to be more willing to make some compromises in order to ease the weight of harsh sanctions the Venezuelan economy. The most tangible evidence has been the entry into the country, after several years of negotiation, of the United Nations World Food Program and an eventual opening for entry of more humanitarian aid.
With respect to Russia and China, fundamental allies of the regime, their reactions have been the following:
Russia has so far remained silent, when on other occasions it has openly supported the holding of elections without guarantees and the appointment of previous CNE officials.
On the contrary, through Xinhua news agency, China expressed its satisfaction for the appointment of the new CNE. It also highlighted the agreement reached with the opposition for the formation of the body’s board.
In the short term, some democratic groups are expected to reorganize around a proposal that will allow them to participate in the upcoming local elections. In this rearrangement, the Unity Platform could be placed at a disadvantage, not only before its allies abroad who advocate a peaceful solution to the conflict, but also before the majority of Venezuelans. The magnitude of the crisis has depolarized society and the desire for the conflict to be settled through the ballot box prevails.
No one can be deceived: The Venezuelan Ordeal towards free elections has just begun; but the struggle for conditions towards the upcoming local elections may become a powerful factor of social mobilization.