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Reforms, new bodies, and international monitoring, but without elections

The right to vote in periodic, universal, and authentic elections, as mandated by article 25.b) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, continues to lack all the basic guarantees to be exercised in Venezuela. The 2021 Annual Report of the IACHR confirms this situation by including Venezuela for the seventeenth consecutive year in its chapter IV, given the validity of the “alteration of the constitutional order that seriously affects the democratic order”, together with the “commission of serious violations of human rights”.

The 2021 report of the IACHR reflects recent practices of the Venezuelan electoral system. Since her appointment as a magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) on April 26, 2022, the vacancy for rector Tania D’Amelio remains open within the National Electoral Council (CNE). The case is worrying when recalling the precedent of former rector Rafael Simón Jiménez, who was replaced by a person other than the alternates that the TSJ had appointed months ago.

The risk of repeating this practice is significant since the government could be looking for a name and circumstance that guarantees its majority in the CNE with the view of maintaining political control of an electoral body that is still far from being re-institutionalized. The process of regeneration of confidence that began towards the CNE by virtue of the recomposition of a more balanced directive could fall apart if the government advances in a solution contrary to what the electoral legislation orders; in this case, if they avoid the appointment of Leonel Párica Hernández, who was appointed as D’Amelio’s substitute, but who has not assumed.

In addition to the risk noted, the existing obstacles to the vote of more than 4 million Venezuelans abroad persist. The Vice President of the CNE stated in mid-May that the issue of voting abroad was not going to be discussed within the institution, because it depended on political dialogue, as if the exercise of a human right were subordinated to political negotiations, whose realization is uncertain. Added to this is the unwillingness of the electoral body to improve its institutional capacity in order to ensure the rights of the population abroad. According to Francisco Castro, Director of the civil association “Súmate”, the assistance of UN agencies and structures, as well as of countries receiving Venezuelans, would be needed to create new participation mechanisms in the framework of the next 2024 presidential elections. In his opinion, the representation of Venezuela through consulates and embassies in 125 cities “is insufficient mathematically speaking” to register and for the vote of more than 4 million Venezuelans, that is, about 20% of the current electoral registry.

Other alternatives suggested by Castro consist of analyzing early voting, voting by mail and electronic voting. “These processes have their challenges (…) We have to prepare reception, totalization and transmission procedures abroad if we are considering these options.” While possible in a race against time, these options require political will to develop technical capabilities immediately. However, political limitations are added to this equation of restrictions, such as the absence of effective consular relations with some countries receiving migrants (for now Colombia and the United States), the discretionary handling of embassies and consulates regarding the minimum requirements for registration and citizen voting, as well as problems of opacity and lack of transparency during the voting process and afterwards.

Any possibility of democratically re-institutionalizing the country has as its main demand the holding of periodic, universal, and authentic elections, which requires the execution of a plan to allow the participation of Venezuelans abroad in view of the presidential elections of 2024. If this is not on the agenda or concrete results are not achieved in the short term, it is an insult to speak of “democratic recovery” or “improvements in the human rights situation”. In fact, even with legal reforms, new bodies and international monitoring, elections are not allowed in Venezuela. That is why authoritarianism has not yielded; it has only sophisticated its strategies to cling to power.