A single action has proven sufficient to betray the hopes created two weeks ago in Venezuela. Chavismo has once again made a demonstration of its power and, through the judicial bodies it controls, issued an order to suspend the outcome of the opposition primary elections. The blow to the process won by María Corina Machado with more than 90% of the votes, and which mobilized more than two million Venezuelans inside and outside the country, can be read in several ways. Firstly, the fear of the Nicolás Maduro government of promoting democratic elections. Secondly, the enormous amount of work still to be done by the opposition groups to force the holding of presidential elections next year with the presence of international observers.
It is no secret that the regime could have prevented the holding of the primaries on October 22, but just days beforehand it had committed itself during talks with the opposition in Barbados to allowing them to go ahead without interference. After months of paralysis, the resumption of negotiations between the parties, sponsored by Norway and other countries, took Venezuelans by surprise.
The agreement laid down in writing the Chavista commitment to move toward free elections in the second half of 2024. The announcement was welcomed by the United States, which temporarily lifted sanctions on Venezuelan oil, gas, and gold, an oxygen tank for a choked economy. Washington’s openness was conditioned on democratic gestures by the Maduro administration. Respecting the opposition primaries was the first of those conditions.
The success of a vote that at times seemed doomed to failure as it was managed in an analogical way impacted all sectors, from the government to the organizers themselves. Although Venezuelan society appeared disconnected from politics — concentrating instead on surviving the economic crisis and disillusioned by the ups and downs of the opposition — the high turnout was a demonstration of citizen strength that the government had not foreseen when it committed itself to allow the primaries. Chavismo’s angry response began the following day with the opening of an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, which accused the organizers of the ballot of alleged crimes such as criminal association or money laundering. On Monday, the Supreme Court, controlled by the regime, issued a ruling suspending the process and all its effects.
That gesture could have fatal consequences for the necessary path toward democracy that Venezuela must follow after two decades of Chavismo. It is in Maduro’s hands to respect the right of the opposition to freely choose its candidates and to continue with the negotiation process if he wants the result of the 2024 presidential elections to be legitimate.
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