Since the day of the consultative referendum on the controversy with Guyana over the Essequibo territory on December 3, a series of human rights violations have been recorded, some of which we had warned about and others that are fueling an escalation in tensions between Venezuela and Guyana.
As in the simulation carried out on November 19, the day of the referendum was marked by threats, especially against public employees who were forced to participate and present proof of their vote at the control points installed by the ruling party next door of the voting centers, in what constitutes a violation of the right to political participation free of coercion.
Furthermore, in his third oral report, the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE) stated that 10,555,092 voters had participated, in contrast to his first oral report in which he referred to 10.5 million votes, which would correspond to about 2.1 million voters, if we consider that each voter had to vote 5 times, once for each question asked in the consultation. If the figure of 2.1 million was already difficult to accept, given the absence of voters in the voting centers reported by independent media and info-citizens, affirming that there was a participation of 51.01% of the electoral roll is unimaginable, also considering the impossibility of voting for some 4.5 million voters who are outside the country. This would imply that 68% of the voters in Venezuela voted. In terms of political participation, the announced results can only be classified as fraudulent and, therefore, invalid to be interpreted as a mandate by an “overwhelming majority” to justify the annexation. In this way, the “new” CNE demonstrated a bias that questions its character as a reliable arbiter in the face of the 2024 presidential elections.
Four days after the consultation was carried out, the CNE has not published a press release or a single results bulletin on its website. All that is known has been oral information from the president of the electoral body, which directly affects the right to access public information, on an issue so sensitive for the country and its international relations.
On the other hand, the right to freedom of expression was affected. The independent media confirmed what could be the highest abstention in recent decades, but several reporters were prevented from photographing the absence of voters at the voting centers. The NGO Espacio Público registered at least seven cases of violations of the freedom of expression of journalists and the media in the framework of the referendum in various states of the country.
On December 5, one day before the president of the CNE announced the “overwhelming victory” in the consultation, Maduro announced nine actions “to execute the approved decisions,” among which is carrying out a census and handing over the identity card to the inhabitants of Essequibo, through the Administrative Service of Identification and Immigration (Saime). This right to identity that is granted to the population of Essequibo contrasts with the denial of the same to thousands of Venezuelan citizens in the country and to the almost eight million migrants and refugees who have no possibility of obtaining or renewing their identity card outside the country.
Another of the actions announced by Maduro was to approve a Special Law that decrees environmental protection areas and new National Parks in Guayana Esequiba. Considering that another of the announced actions is the granting of operating licenses for the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and minerals, it is worrying to imagine the environmental impact that Venezuela’s intervention in that territory may have, given the demonstrated inability to protect the Amazon territories in the south of the country, which have been strongly degraded since the creation of the Orinoco Mining Arc.
As we warned in a previous analysis, the referendum sought to polarize the population to foster a new wave of political persecution and arbitrary arrests based on alleged betrayal of the country. Thus, the general prosecutor imposed by the constituent assembly announced arrest warrants against nine opponents and a US citizen, in addition to four people who occupy key positions in the Vente party of the opposition candidate María Corina Machado, for the crimes of treason, conspiracy to harm the people, legitimation and association to commit a crime. On December 6, the wife of Roberto Abdul-Hadi, president of the Sumate organization, denounced his arrest at the headquarters of the intelligence services; however, until the night of the 7th, his whereabouts were unknown.
It is striking that another of the actions announced is “the activation of a Social Care Plan for the population of Guayana Esequiba.” This social plan, added to the mobilization of troops and construction of infrastructure in areas near Essequibo, implies a high investment of resources that destroys the excuse of sanctions as an obstacle to meeting the needs of the most vulnerable sectors in Venezuela.
Just three days after the consultation and without its official results being known, the National Assembly (NA) has already approved in the first discussion the Organic Law Project for the Defense of Guayana Esequiba. The project, whose text does not appear on the NA website, was unofficially known by AlertaVenezuela. Article 21 of the project prohibits entering into contracts “with legal entities that are operating or collaborating with the operation in the territory of Guayana Esequiba or the waters pending to be delimited”, which would mean the imposition of unilateral sanctions, which Venezuela has questioned so much.
Additionally, the Bill in its article 18 establishes the sanction of a fine between “1000 to 100,000 times the official exchange rate of the highest value currency published by the Central Bank of Venezuela”, to “whoever prepares, publishes, or distributes total or partial maps, plans or charts of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (…) that omit the territory of the State of Guayana Esequiba.” In addition to this arbitrary restriction on freedom of expression, article 22 points against political rights by stating that “people who publicly favor Guyana’s position regarding to Guayana Esequiba or dishonor the patriotic symbols of the Nation.”
Thus, the State not only promotes an increasingly intense conflict with Guyana, but also forces its population to be an active part of it, which began with the imposition of a referendum riddled with restrictive conditions and continues with the implementation of sociopolitical conditions that seek to blur the most basic rights to align the interests of society with the interests of the governing party. AlertaVenezuela warns about the government’s violent disposition to use the Venezuelan population for nationalist purposes whose paths are well known. A conflict with these dimensions is far from being a cause for the country and, on the contrary, is advancing towards new scenarios of violence that must be immediately prevented.
In short, these are measures and eventually regulations that affect, by action or omission, the rights of the population of Venezuela in an attempt to polarize based on nationalism. In this context, it is essential that the international community take all actions at its disposal to prevent the escalation of the conflict, which will only mean more suffering for the population.