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Political dialogue continues without guarantees

Government and Opposition in Barbados. Photo: Voz de América

Following the last few weeks of talks between Venezuela and the United States, the news broke that the Venezuelan government and opposition would return to the negotiating table, which took place on October 17, in Bridgetown, Barbados. The meeting was accompanied unofficially with agenda items and various demands framed in the lifting of sectoral and personal sanctions in exchange for the organization of free elections at a time to be defined during 2024.

According to public information, the demands included respect for the October 22 primary process, the establishment of an electoral schedule for the years 2024-2025, the lifting of disqualifications for opposition candidates and the adoption of electoral guarantees, such as the equitable access to the media and the presence of international observers. Likewise, the release of political prisoners was noted.

On October 17, two partial agreements were signed that imply progress on some of the indicated aspects. The first agreement refers to the “promotion of political and electoral rights” and the second to the “protection of the vital interests of the Nation.” What has been achieved so far, according to the opposition, is the holding of a “peaceful primary”, international observation for the presidential elections in the second half of 2024, purification of the electoral registry and updating of the electoral registry abroad. The issue of disqualifications is not resolved, although in the opinion of the official spokeperson, Jorge Rodríguez, no one can be a candidate with an administrative sanction from the Comptroller General of the Republic. The release of political prisoners was also not agreed upon. On other hand, there was no further reference to “the protection of the vital interests of the Nation.”

Even though the government spokesperson assured that results will be seen in the coming days, it is difficult to anticipate whether the agreement could be enforced and how, considering among other factors that the United States has not expressed its response in relation to the annulment of some sectoral and personal sanctions, nor what it has demanded from the Venezuelan government. Given the lack of information on how the progressive mechanism for lifting sanctions will work, it is appropriate to demand that this mechanism be transparent and have clear, objective and verifiable indicators or goals for the society.

If the resumption of political dialogue and its progress, although worthy of recognition, continue to advance -at best- without other fundamental measures, significant risks will arise for the objective of democratically reconstructing the country. These advances can ultimately become a platform for the regression of the democratic and human rights situation if other primary issues are left aside at the negotiating table with the aim of favoring other false elections.

Let’s start with the agreement on the social fund. After almost a year of being signed in Mexico, it was learned that it still cannot be executed because the main parties involved – the United States and Venezuela – maintain differences, which further postpones the release of the promised three billion dollars. The main obstacle that many paradoxically try to justify is the absolute opacity that has characterized the process. The issue of the social fund is the one with the highest levels of reserve, making it impossible for a public comptroller to exist, and without it, it will be hardly for the parties to be scrutinized and forced to act.

The second shortcoming has to do with the poor scope of the announced measures, which are not only limited, but if their insufficient nature is maintained, they will cause a boomerang effect in the country. The electoral registry is an eloquent example. The issue of updating the registry abroad emerges after years of public demands without any actor having paid attention to it until now. This has meant that a few months before the election, no effort has been made to effectively include Venezuelans abroad, who represent close to the 25% of the voters, and over whom legal, administrative and humanitarian obstacles still weigh, as one of our analysis shows. On the other hand, without agreeing on the political and electoral guarantees of all candidates and ensuring an adequate institutional environment that begins with the release of all political prisoners, the threat of another electoral illusion in 2024 remains.

The third aspect is a warning to the lifting of personal sanctions. In no case can these measures benefit human rights violators or people involved in acts of corruption that, due to their impact, have significantly affected economic, social and cultural rights in Venezuela. Corruption produces direct consequences in the complex humanitarian emergency, as one of our analyzes argues. Sanctions linked to corruption cannot be lifted without first having published a serious assessment of the effects of each particular case on the rights of the population. Political negotiation must not only have human rights as its object, but must primarily have the realization of such rights as its basis and ultimate goal.

Finally, for this negotiation process to run smoothly and improve its chances of success, it necessarily requires minimum levels of transparency that are not being guaranteed, as well as the broad and informed participation of civil society. No sector of civil society that claims such representation holds it nor can it hold it, so the plurality of sectors must be involved under self-managed and unconditioned mechanisms so that they exercise leading roles that guarantee the processes of democratic coexistence in the face of the elections, as aspired to by the agreements signed between the government and the opposition. It is key to consult in a democratic process the victims of human rights violations, including the most vulnerable groups of the complex humanitarian emergency. It seems redundant to remember that the democratic life of the country is not the heritage of political parties or a few self-proclaimed spokespersons.

As we have called upon in other editions, ensuring the continuation of the negotiations is a challenge for the international community, but a greater challenge is to guarantee that the north of the political agreements is not lost, such as the humanitarian needs of the population and the route towards redemocratization. An incremental pressure mechanism is required with the view of drawing and enforcing a roadmap focused on the substantive aspects of the social agreement and the partial agreements of October 17, especially if it is observed that the negotiation table is instrumentalized with political-partisan objectives, while the needs of the population, supposedly a high priority, continue to be pushed to the background.