Elections in Venezuela
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What Zapatero Knows

Venezuelans want to vote, but not in elections where traps and tricks will guarantee the continuity of this government

Moisés Naím
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.Federico PARRA (AFP PHOTO)

How would the Spanish feel if they had a government with authoritarian propensities that called for a rush election in which the opposition parties were disqualified, its main leaders were either in jail or in exile, and the organization in charge of guaranteeing that the elections are free and fair was controlled by the same president who was seeking re-election? To be more precise, how would they feel if the country was about to go to the polls and the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) was banned and its candidate, Pedro Sánchez, was in jail while Albert Rivera, the leader of Ciudadanos, the party leading in the polls, had to seek refuge abroad to avoid incarceration – or worse?

Venezuelans want to vote! But not in rigged elections that make sure that the current government stays in power

That would be unacceptable. And, surely, that’s something that Spain’s former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero knows full well. Nevertheless, that is the proposal that Zapatero wants the Venezuelan opposition to accept.

When the Venezuelan opposition parties decided to negotiate with Nicolás Maduro’s regime about the upcoming elections, they had some very specific objectives: ensuring a transparent, free and competitive presidential election; that all political prisoners be freed; that the political rights of the arbitrarily disqualified opposition candidates be restored; that the National Assembly, which was fairly elected by the people, be recognized; and, most importantly, that the crisis that is decimating the Venezuelan people be addressed. None of this was acceptable to the Maduro government.

Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.Chema Moya (EFE)

And Zapatero knows that.

All the opinion polls show most Venezuelans do not want Nicolás Maduro to continue as president. And the vast majority of them want the transition to be democratic and without violence. They want to vote! But not in rigged elections that make sure that the current government stays in power. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council should, in theory, be independent. After all, it is the “electoral referee” and in charge of guaranteeing clean elections. In practice, however, it has been – for almost two decades now – a shameless and unapologetic appendage of the government.

Zapatero knows that.

In Venezuela the vast majority of the media outlets are controlled directly or indirectly by the regime, which uses them as a powerful propaganda tool. They are also the source of constant and merciless attacks on the opposition – which, in turn, is legally prohibited from responding or correcting any of the slanders spread daily by the media.

Of course, Zapatero knows that.

The government has not allowed the presence of experienced and neutral international observers in any of the previous elections. It has already stated that observers from the Organization of American States, which has the most experienced, independent and respected electoral monitor group in the Western Hemisphere, will not be allowed into the country. In contrast, the Maduro government has expressed its enthusiastic welcome to an electoral observation group organized under the aegis of the United Nations. Who does the Venezuelan government want as the leader of this group?

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The government has not allowed the presence of experienced and neutral international observers in any of the previous elections

In Maduro’s Venezuela, the most popular, competent, and electorally competitive opposition leaders are in prison, have been disqualified by judges loyal to the government, or have been forced into exile. And yes, Zapatero knows that.

At the age of twenty-eight David Smolansky was elected as mayor of El Hatillo, an area adjacent to Caracas. The youngest mayor in Venezuela’s history led a very successful administration and was able to overcome the most Machiavellian maneuvers of a government bent on sabotaging him. The popularity and success of Smolansky proved intolerable for Maduro and his minions. Not surprisingly, the young mayor was accused by the Supreme Court – another appendage of the government – of refusing to use force to stamp out the peaceful protests that occurred in his jurisdiction. He was immediately removed from his position, and an order was issued for his arrest and imprisonment in a jail where political prisoners are known to be routinely tortured. Smolansky refused to surrender and was on the run for 35 days. Finally, he embarked on a risky journey through southern Venezuela that allowed him to enter Brazil via a jungle route. In an honorable gesture, the Brazilian authorities allowed him to enter the country. Today the young politician lives in exile and dreams of returning to work in Venezuela. Smolansky’s is not an isolated case. Twelve other mayors have been arbitrarily dismissed, and half of them have been imprisoned and mistreated.

And, of course, Zapatero knows all this.

Recently, Zapatero participated with Pablo Iglesias (the leader of Spain’s left-wing party, Podemos) in an act of support for Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. Morales has been in power for 12 years and now wants to run for a fourth term. The Bolivian Constitution does not allow this: a president can only remain in office for two consecutive periods. In 2016, Morales called a national referendum to eliminate term limits. He lost it. Undaunted, the president appealed to the Constitutional Court, whose magistrates had no problem in deciding that Morales could run once again for the presidency of Bolivia. This was, they ruled, his human right…

The conduct of Evo Morales does not deserve the endorsement and applause of a democrat.

And Zapatero knows it.

Twitter @moisesnaim

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