Venezuela’s government and the opposition signed partial agreements on Tuesday in Barbados to pave the way for presidential elections in Venezuela, almost a year after signing commitments that never came to fruition. Delegations of the Nicolás Maduro administration and the Unitary Platform signed a five-page document in which one of the clearest commitments is to propose presidential elections for the second half of 2024. Taking into account the constitutional schedule, they would be held in December. This point would seem to override the desire by some Chavista officials to hold them earlier.
The document is mostly a general framework of tasks, largely related to the obligations of the National Electoral Council (CNE), and it remains to be seen whether they will be complied with. National television broadcast images of the delegations signing this new agreement. Its facilitators have described the progress as significant, but crucial aspects remain up in the air regarding the disqualification of opposition candidates, which the Maduro government has used as a tool to block political dissidence in the country and which remains the most controversial aspect of this new cycle of negotiations.
The next-to-last point of the agreement states that “authorization for all presidential candidates and political parties” will be promoted so that they can participate in the presidential election, but warns that this will be “as long as they comply with the requirements established by law,” a statement that maintains open the possibility that judicial vetoes will be used to prevent candidates like María Corina Machado from running. Machado was hit with a sanction of this type a few months ago, when she was running for the primaries. In statements to the official media that traveled to Barbados, the head of the Chavista delegation, Jorge Rodríguez, clarified the point by saying that “if you receive an administrative disqualification, you will not be able to be a candidate.” Machado is expected to emerge the winner of the primaries that will be held this Sunday, so this remains a key issue to be resolved.
The opposition delegation has highlighted the achievements as another step along the way. “This delegation has taken its first step to develop an electoral process with concrete guarantees to bring about political change,” said leader Gerardo Blyde. “Guarantees are being generated to respect the candidate selection processes; that is, the primaries.” Other commitments now down on paper include a pledge that authorities will “adopt measures to guarantee security, freedom of movement and assembly for all candidates throughout the national territory.”
The agreement also opens up the electoral process to international observers from the European Union, the United Nations Panel of Electoral Experts, the African Union, the Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations and the Carter Center. It further contemplates voter registration for Venezuelans living abroad, an important demand that the opposition had been making.
Venezuela has more than three million people of voting age who have not registered, and the only possibility to do so is at the regional offices of the CNE, located in the state capitals, which for many people are several hours away from their homes.
The last point agreed to is a pledge to respect the results of next year’s presidential election.
The lifting of sanctions, which for a time was the opposition’s main source of leverage, has been relegated to the last paragraph of the agreement. “The parties will continue the process of dialogue and negotiation in relation to other measures aimed at strengthening an inclusive democracy and a culture of tolerance and political coexistence, as well as respect for human rights; understanding the need for the sanctions against the Venezuelan State to be lifted and claiming independence, freedom, sovereignty, immunity, territorial integrity and national self-determination as inalienable rights of the Nation,” the document says.
A separate negotiation is taking place now that Maduro has restarted talks with the United States, with a promise to ease the restrictions on doing business with Venezuelan oil, in a context in which that the energy market has been in check since Russia’s war in Ukraine began and become further complicated again with the armed conflict in Gaza.
After two years of negotiations with support from Norway, the Netherlands and Russia, there have been little specific action. The release of the country’s more than 200 political prisoners, the reforms to the justice system to guarantee reparation for victims, and protection measures for Venezuelans who are still going through a serious humanitarian crisis are issues that were discussed on August 17, 2021 when the parties first met in Mexico City, but these topics have not re-entered the discussion since then.
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