In the situation that Venezuela is facing, characterized by a complex humanitarian emergency, the violation of citizens’ rights has been constant. It is a widespread view that this difficult situation can only be overcome by holding a free and fair election, which gives way to a transitional government that guarantees respect for the Constitution and allows the advancement of necessary social reforms that the country requires. Hence, since 2021 there have been attempts at negotiation between the government led by Nicolás Maduro and the democratic opposition gathered in the Unitary Platform, in order to facilitate decision-making that allows improving the conditions of the population and moving forward together in the implementation of mechanisms aimed at overcoming this serious crisis.
Starting from the first meeting in August 2021, when an initial Memorandum of Understanding was signed in Mexico City, followed by the one that took place in November 2022 for the constitution of a Social Fund, the parties had not been able to conclude a formal dialogue, until October 17, in Barbados, when a Partial Agreement on the promotion of political rights and electoral guarantees for all was signed.
This Agreement, which seeks to establish minimum bases for the 2024 presidential electoral process, in its first paragraph, highlights the right of each political actor to select their presidential candidate freely and in accordance with their internal mechanisms. This matter, which might seem like an obvious right and one covered by the right to free association -article 67 of the Constitution- and the formation of political parties, was in clear doubt given the public statements of government officials describing the primary election of the opposition presidential candidate as illegal. The primaries finally took place, without any major setback, on October 22. This right to hold an internal primary election, on the other hand, is guaranteed in article 62 of the Constitution.
The agreement also indicates that the date for holding the election will be the second half of 2024. This is also an issue that should not be the subject of discussion, except for the fact that the Venezuelan government has previously advanced the date of the elections by more than six months, motivated by political convenience.
On the other hand, the agreement includes ordinary issues of electoral dynamics, such as updating the electoral registry with the corresponding dissemination campaigns, activating the national identification process, and incorporating Venezuelans abroad into the electoral registry, carrying out audits of the automated voting system and promoting a balanced media coverage, among others. These matters, ordinary as they are, however, are not carried out in Venezuela, or, at best, they are carried out in a selective and partial manner. A clear example of this is the issue of voting abroad, which is included in the law and yet has been ignored in almost all electoral processes. In fact, the government does not carry out the preparatory activities to carry out the vote in the Venezuelan consulates, which results in the violation of the right to vote of the Venezuelan diaspora, which is today the largest in the world. For an election that will be held within eight or fourteen months, and which, according to the agreement, should allow approximately five million Venezuelans abroad to vote, it is clear that the steps required for this have not been carried out, which involves an operation logistics of such magnitude that it exceeds the demands of holding a national election in many countries.
Special mention deserves the matter incorporated in paragraph 11 of the agreement: “Authorization will be promoted to all presidential candidates and political parties, as long as they meet the requirements established to participate in the presidential election, consistent with the procedures established in Venezuelan law, in accordance with the principles of speed, efficiency and effectiveness included in the Constitution.” This paragraph refers to the disqualification that weighs on several opposition leaders, and in particular on the presidential candidate who emerged victorious in the primary election on October 22. In effect, the administrative disqualification that falls on her has serious overtones of unconstitutionality, as it is contrary to what is established in articles 42 and 65 of the Constitution, which exhaustively determine the causes of loss of political rights. However, the public and recurring discourse of the highest official officials insists on the condition of disqualification of the candidate, who is not officially notified of her supposed status.
All these aspects, without exception, are contemplated in the Constitution and the laws of the Republic, however, they have been the subject of this Agreement, proposed by the opposition. Why make an Agreement that highlights issues clearly incorporated into the legal framework? Well, this is necessary because in electoral matters the national government not only does not comply with what is established in the legal framework, but it repeatedly violates it.
It is striking that the agreement incorporates the request for technical invitations to the agreed electoral observation missions, which include the European Union, the United Nations Panel of Experts, the African Union, the Inter-American Union of electoral organizations, and the Carter Center. This is a positive fact, given the reluctance of the Venezuelan government to receive professional observation missions that carry out detailed work on all the aspects involved in an electoral process, unlike the so-called “electoral accompaniment” that does promote electoral power, in which that the organization invited to carry out the observation cannot express public opinion, it only participates in the days of the election and can only visit the places indicated by the authorities.
On the other hand, mechanisms such as that of the United Nations Panel of Experts only produce a confidential document at the end of the mission, and this results in an opaque process since neither its observations nor the possible actions taken to mitigate what was raised are known.
In the same way, the report of observations that the European Union Electoral Observation Mission has presented in the past, this one published, has not been the subject of a report from the electoral power that allows evaluating the actions that should have been taken considering what was detailed there.
All this allows us to appreciate the fragility of what was agreed in Barbados. The agreement contains valuable elements, it describes crucial points, but the monitoring mechanisms are relatively weak and the possibilities of non-compliance are obvious.
Therefore, the clear and determined participation of the international community is essential to insist on compliance with what has been agreed. Free and fair elections are not an extraordinary request, it is, on the contrary, the fundamental basis of democracy and respect for the political rights of citizens.