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Maduro not only chooses his adversaries but also the voters

New instructions – not published – from the CNE discriminate against voters abroad.

AlertaVenezuela denounces that, in the context of the upcoming presidential elections, the Venezuelan State has not only chosen its electoral contenders, but also the voters who will have the right to vote. The National Electoral Council, hereinafter (CNE), has arbitrarily tightened the requirements for Venezuelans abroad to participate in the electoral process, so much so that millions will not be able to do so.

From March 18 to April 16 was the period announced by the CNE for the registration and updating in the Electoral Registry of Venezuelans inside and outside the national territory. Less than two weeks before its closure, delays persist and in several cases the registration is still not opened in countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Spain. In Spain, it is reported that until April 2 only the Madrid consulate operates and with limited capacity, while the consulates of Barcelona, Tenerife, Bilbao, and Vigo remain closed. In Chile and Argentina, the registrations in the consulates of Santiago and Buenos Aires have not opened yet, waiting for alleged instructions or machines from the CNE in Caracas.

In countries where the registration is open, the situation is not better either. The CNE made sure that Venezuelans abroad are punished and discriminated against. The electoral body has ordered the consulates to apply new instructions that it has not published – therefore, cannot be challenged – which proposes a more restrictive interpretation of article 124 of the Organic Law of Electoral Processes (hereinafter LOPE), with the aim of filtering potential voters in these elections. The explanation is as follows.

Article 124 of the LOPE sets that “only voters who have residence permits or any other regime that denotes legality of permanence may vote abroad.” As a starting point, this law is openly unconstitutional for violating the rights to suffrage and equality of Venezuelans abroad, to the extent that it subordinates the exercise of a fundamental political right to the immigration status of the person. While in Venezuela voters only need to be of legal age and have an identity document (expired or current) to vote, voters outside the country need to register in the consulate, have a valid or pending passport, and prove their regular stay, which depends on foreign authorities. In other words, Venezuela renounces its sovereignty and intentionally unprotects its nationals by allowing a third state to determine who its voters are. But the legal and political blow is just beginning.

THE CNE has decided to violate its own unconstitutional law by activating an instructive that deletes the second part of article 124 of the LOPE, providing that “only voters who have residence may vote abroad.” It then specifies that this residence must be “permanent,” and that the “validity of that document must be at least 3 years as of the current date and must have been issued at least one year in advance.” It is not clear from what date the year of issue and the three years of validity that the residence must meet are computed, but everything seems to indicate that a person with a permanent visa approved in April 2023 does not have the right to register and therefore, to vote. The universe of people with “permanent residence” and with a document of these characteristics is insignificant in relation to the 4 million potential voters.

This measure represents discrimination that disproportionately impacts Venezuelans in Colombia. Many Venezuelans there have a Temporary Protection Permit (hereinafter PPT) that grants 10 years of permanence, and while this regime exceeds the time of the resident visa that grants 5 years of permanence, Venezuela does not consider it “permanent residence”, and therefore many Venezuelans do not qualify to vote. Aside from this arbitrariness, when the instructive eliminates the second part of article 124 of the LOPE that opens the option to “any other regime that denotes legality of permanence” it precisely harms Venezuelans with PPT in Colombia, or similar regularization regimes in Peru, Ecuador, Spain, among others. The CNE decided to exclude them outright. The numbers in this regard are overwhelming. Based on figures from Migration Colombia, the instructive would mean that only about 7,500 people are able to register, compared to some 2.8 million Venezuelans in that country, of which at least 1.5 million are eligible to register and vote.

As the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory warns, “migrants could make up the largest electoral constituency, spread across more than 90 countries and 400 cities. For this reason, the main consequence of not guaranteeing an optimal update of the electoral registry (…), is excluding a population that can be decisive in defining the results.” The Electoral Registry as of January 31, 2024, reports that there are 107,591 Venezuelans registered abroad. And 4.8 million cannot register. A quarter of the Venezuelan electoral population is prevented from voting because Maduro seeks not to lose the election.

The State turned voting abroad into an endurance race, full of obstacles such as lack of information, delays, costs, and arbitrary requirements. Even so, many Venezuelans are mobilizing around the world and demanding their right to participate in the presidential elections. AlertaVenezuela denounces that Venezuela punishes and discriminates against Venezuelans abroad with unconstitutional measures through a biased electoral body that not only selects the candidates, but also their voters. Given this alarming situation, it calls on the international community to closely follow the electoral process, categorically reject this deprivation of the vote for Venezuelan migrants, and demand that the State comply with the Barbados Agreement by granting full electoral guarantees for everyone.