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Is Maduro burying the Barbados agreements?

In previous installments we have defined the Barbados agreements between the government of Venezuela and the factors represented in the Unitary Platform, aimed at achieving an electoral process that meets basic internationally accepted parameters, as important agreements, although fragile, given the authoritarian characteristics of the government led by Nicolás Maduro.

This fragility of the agreements lies in the fact that their central objective, the holding of free and fair elections, is a scenario in which the current rulers, after twenty-five years in power, have a rejection rate that ranges between 70% and 90% of the voters. In essence, this situation is not new, back in 2018, Nicolás Maduro, faced with manifest unpopularity, violated the electoral rules in a frank and open manner, disqualifying any opposition leader with high popularity, outlawing political parties and altering the electoral schedule at his sole will.

Currently, numerous opposition leaders have been disqualified to participate in elections, and consequently deprived of their political rights. María Corina Machado, who won a clear victory in the primary elections held by the opposition to define a candidate for the 2024 presidential elections, has been disqualified, as spokesmen for Nicolás Maduro have publicly stated. However, Machado is not a public official, she has not been notified of the alleged measure and her lawyers have been prevented from accessing the case file. The decision of the Supreme Court of Justice has not been published, so it is not possible to appeal it. This evident violation of Machado’s political rights, as well as the rights of the voters who would be prevented from expressing her their support, which in the primaries reached almost 2.5 million people, does not come from a trial with due process, as the law indicates, but from an administrative body not empowered to do so, and whose decision, apparently, would have been confirmed by judicial means in the absence of Machado.

But let’s look at the Barbados agreements to understand the characteristics of the threat situation in which they find themselves. In its operative part, the Partial Agreement on the promotion of political rights and electoral guarantees for all, states:

“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, also in accordance with the principles of speed, efficiency and effectiveness included. in the Constitution”

The previous paragraph seems to prefigure a negotiated solution to this critical issue for Venezuela’s return to the rule of law and the holding of competitive elections this year. Thus, Machado requested the Supreme Court of Justice for a measure of precautionary protection against the administrative actions of the Comptroller General’s Office that supposedly disqualify her and on January 26 it produced ruling 00005 in which it affirms that there is a disqualification, despite that there has been no trial and the administrative sanction, if it exists, does not authorize the deprivation of rights. This decision of the Court, which we do not hesitate to describe as arbitrary and unconstitutional, also violates the text of the Barbados agreements. Is Maduro burying the agreements?

That is the conclusion many actors draw from Maduro’s actions. For now, shortly after the Court reported its unfortunate decision, there has been a forceful response from the United States, which for some time has been making important concessions to the Caracas regime: it handed over the nephews of Cilia Flores -wife of Maduro – who had been imprisoned since they were arrested red-handed in a drug trafficking operation, and lifted last October, in an expression of support for the Barbados agreements, several sanctions that prevented the trade of Petróleos de Venezuela with entities related to the United States. The message, published by the United States Embassy for Venezuela, is clear: “The decision of the Venezuelan Supreme Court to maintain the disqualifications of María Corina Machado and Henrique Capriles undermines a competitive presidential election. Based on this and the actions against the opposition and civil society, the US is reviewing our sanctions policy.”

Next, the Biden administration announced the revocation of the license recently issued to the state mining company Minerven, while announcing that if there was no change in the behavior of the Maduro government it would proceed to revoke the oil licenses that expire next April.

Faced with the complex humanitarian crisis that Venezuela is experiencing, the lack of basic public services, the breakdown of public health and the decline in oil production, the authoritarian regime of Nicolas Maduro, which openly controls the judiciary and electoral power, seems to lean for continuing to evade democratic values, the separation of powers and the holding of fair and free elections. To the point that the possibility of early elections with exclusive consultations with sectors politically close to the regime is already looming.

Venezuela today is going through an extremely difficult period, and only with the support of the international community, the rescue of democratic values will be a reality in the near future. The gateway to that future is in the 2024 elections, which must be free, fair and competitive, with international observation, with an updated electoral registry, with respect for the vote of Venezuelans abroad, and without leaders prevented from participating.