International Community Responds to Venezuela’s Gubernatorial Elections

Following Venezuela’s gubernatorial elections, in which a combination of low opposition turnout and a vastly un-level playing field (and outright fraud in the case of Bolívar) appear to have allowed an unpopular government to win 18 of 23 races, international actors have responded with a combination of outright condemnation, statements of concern, and statements of support.

The United States government has been pointedly critical of the election, which it had signaled as unfair and irregular even before polls opened Sunday. In a press release the day after the vote, the U.S. State Department condemned “the lack of free and fair elections yesterday in Venezuela,” promising to “work with members of the international community and bring the full weight of American economic and diplomatic power to bear in support of the Venezuelan people as they seek to restore their democracy.” The U.S. has also spoken out against the Maduro government’s requirement that elected mayors be sworn in before the illegitimate Constituent Assembly, calling it “alarming.”

The lead up to the vote saw a harder line from the Canadian government, which until recently had been limited to collective statements in line with its fellow Latin American partners in the 12-country Lima Group. On September 22, Canada imposed targeted sanctions that froze the assets of and prohibited Canadian dealings with 40 Venezuelan government officials deemed to have “played a key role in undermining the security, stability and integrity of democratic institutions of Venezuela.” Following Sunday’s vote, Canada issued a statement claiming that the elections were “characterized by many irregularities” that put the validity of the results in question.

As a bloc, the 12 member Lima Group called for an “audit” of the vote with international accompaniment, saying it would be necessary to “know the true pronouncement of the Venezuelan people.” This demand has been echoed by the United States. Bloomberg View also published an editorial piece arguing that the international community should be more unified to “push hard for a full audit, the restoration of independence to Venezuela’s once vaunted electoral council, and the unhindered presence of outside election observers.” However, analysts agree that such an audit is highly unlikely.

Colombia has taken a position that goes even further than the collective statement. Its government has said that it would not recognize Sunday’s vote, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted that the “solution” to Venezuela’s crisis is to hold “general elections” with international observation.

Thus opposition’s decision to participate in the vote appears not to have cost them too much internationally, despite significant criticism from OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro.

Ecuador has taken a more critical stance on Venezuela since Lenin Moreno replaced Rafael Correa as president and so far has not yet adopted a position on the validity of Sunday’s vote. Ecuador’s foreign minister has opted to avoid any direct mention of Venezuela when questioned. This sets Ecuador apart from other ALBA nations like Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia, which have all congratulated Venezuela on the elections. Bolivia’s Evo Morales said the election was a sign that “democracy has won, over intervention and conspiracy.”

The European Union has adopted what can best be described as a “wait and see” approach. While some reports indicated that the EU would announce new targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials in the wake of the vote, a consensus on the matter has not yet emerged. The U.S. and others have urged them to act swiftly. The Financial Times, in an editorial, argues that the EU should use targeted sanctions as a means to ensure that fair, internationally monitored presidential elections are held in 2018.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s main international creditors–China and Russia–have been fully supportive of the vote. Russia issued a statement calling the elections a demonstration of Venezuelans’ commitment to resolving differences peacefully and democratically, while expressing concern that the opposition’s refusal to accept the results could lead to more violence. China issued a statement saying that it viewed Sunday’s vote as “very calm,” and reiterated that Venezuela’s government is “able to properly handle its internal affairs within the framework of the law and maintain stability and prosperity.”