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Maduro’s government accelerates its conflict with Guyana and the primaries

Image from Reuters

On Monday, October 30, while members of the National Primary Commission (CNP) attended a summons from the Public Ministry for the opening of a criminal investigation into the opposition election that was described as “constituting crimes” by the attorney general imposed by the national constituent assembly, the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) also intervened in the primary, ordering the suspension of “all the effects of the electoral process conducted by the CNP” due to “the alleged commission of electoral crimes.”

As can be seen from ruling No. 122, the CNP must record “the administrative background, containing the twenty-five phases of the electoral process” of the primaries, ranging from the call for the event to the minutes of scrutiny, totalization and proclamation. In addition, it must record the “acceptance certificate of the application”, formulated by “the citizen firmly disqualified for fifteen (15) years María Corina Machado”, as well as the resignations of citizens Henrique Capriles and Freddy Superlano, both disqualified by 15 and 7 years, respectively.

This decision by the TSJ comes a week after the primary process, in line with the statements of government leaders such as Nicolás Maduro, Cilia Flores, Diosdado Cabello, Jorge Rodríguez, as well as other regional leaders, all of whom had described it as a “fraud.” The ruling deals a hard blow to the Barbados Accords that were signed just two weeks ago, where the government committed to respecting “the right of each political actor to select their presidential candidate freely and in accordance with their internal mechanisms.”. The situation of how the agreements remain in the face of these events and the negotiation process are supposed to be considered by the agreement verification commission, which to date has not been convened by the Maduro government. Before this happens, the United States declared that it “will take action” if the government does not comply with the electoral route embodied in the Barbados agreements.

The government, making coordinated and expeditious use of its subordinate bodies such as the National Electoral Council, the Attorney General’s Office and the Supreme Court of Justice, has decided to assume the political and economic costs of denying Maria Corina Machado participation at any cost in the 2024 presidential elections. This fact has greater implications considering the important popular participation the primary had and its democratic symbolism. It seems that the government’s major calculation is to avoid electoral confrontation with a candidate who has shown her ability to mobilize a relevant part of the population, which is why it seeks to discourage them from the democratic struggle by imposing obstacles on the opposition candidate, besides her disqualification measure.

Meanwhile, Venezuela proposes an annexation of territory. The day after the primary, the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the five questions that will be submitted to the population for consultation in a referendum to be held on December 3, 2023. The consultation had been approved by the National Assembly in September 2023, with the aim that “the people strengthen the defense of Guayana Esequiba.”

The fifth question of the consultation is formulated in the following terms: Do you agree with the creation of the Guayana Esequiba state and the development of an accelerated plan for comprehensive care for the current and future population of that territory, which includes, among others the granting of Venezuelan citizenship and identity card, in accordance with the Geneva Agreement and International Law, consequently incorporating said state on the map of Venezuelan territory?

Analyzing the merits and history of Venezuela’s claim to Guayana Esequiba, as well as the relevance of the other four questions, is beyond the scope of this note. However, it is undeniable that the way this question is formulated suggests an annexation provision that could be interpreted as a hostile act. Indeed, the government of Guyana reacted immediately by stating that the announced consultation has “the potential to incite violence and threaten peace,” while the Caricom countries, until now unconditional allies of Venezuela thanks to the benefits of Petrocaribe, closed ranks in favor of Guyana.

It is an old and well-known recipe of authoritarian and dictatorial governments to invoke nationalist feelings that seek to unite the entire population against an external enemy when its popularity is very low. The Malvinas war and the Cenepa war are recent examples in the region. In this type of conflict scenarios, Chavismo has experience in manipulation and polarization, where nuances are not accepted. Thus, it is easy to foresee that accusations of treason will be imposed as a form of disqualification and persecution against those who do not forcefully express their support for the referendum.

Once again, the right to political participation free of coercion will be threatened in Venezuela. In the run-up to a presidential election, the temptation to give this consultation a plebiscitary nature is great. Furthermore, holding the referendum six weeks before the primary will constitute a challenge of mobilizing participants to compare figures with those announced by the National Primary Commission.

The international community, and especially multilateral organizations, must immediately activate all mechanisms at their disposal for the peaceful resolution of disputes, since tensions between Venezuela and Guyana are escalating alarmingly, threatening not only peace, but also human rights and access to humanitarian assistance for a population that is already severely hit by the emergency.

Moreover, the international community must ensure that the government respects the electoral route, allowing the candidate supported by the opposition, as well as any person who wishes to do so, to freely participate in the presidential elections, without arbitrary conditions or limitations on their political and electoral rights. This means setting a clear electoral schedule with due guarantees for everyone. At the same time, the rights to personal freedom, security and integrity of the members of the National Primary Commission and of all the people who participated in the primary must be guaranteed under conditions of equality and non-discrimination, including the full protection of their personal data.