Venezuela Weekly: TSJ Ruling Further Complicates Electoral Agreement

Since 2017, the centerpiece of the Maduro government’s political strategy has been to divide the opposition by presenting it with a dilemma: participate in or abstain from unfair elections.

It has done this by artfully constructing elections so that conditions are obnoxiously-biased enough to generate abstention, at the same time that they are attractive enough that some opposition candidates will participate and even win (See Javier Corrales’ analysis of the trajectory of electoral irregularities here). Dividing the opposition between abstainers and participators allows the Chavista coalition to win elections despite its unpopularity, and present itself as democratic.

The dilemma is even more acute since research suggests elections, even when deeply flawed, are one of the classic detonators of a democratic transition, and many Venezuelan opinion-makers realize this.

However, a significant segment of the opposition has internalized the Trump administration’s suggestions that “all options are on the table,” and see participation in unfair elections as a betrayal of democratic principles and as an impediment to what could be a faster, clearer resolution: military intervention.

It is in this context that yesterday’s Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ) ruling declaring the legality of the National Assembly directorate led by Luis Párra and prohibiting parallel meetings of the Guaidó-led National Assembly reduces the possibility of fair elections.

One of the few glimmers of hope during 2020 was provided by the agreement in February between the Guaidó-led opposition in the National Assembly and the Socialist Party deputies, to create a nominations committee (Comité de Postulaciones CP) to select a new National Electoral Council (CNE).

The CP met a few times but was idled by the pandemic. The elephant in the room from the very beginning was to which directorate that CP would respond as the opposition representatives recognized Guaidó, while the PSUV deputies recognized Párra.

Now it appears that to function they would have to recognize Parrá and it seems unlikely the Guaidó-led opposition will do that. Guaidó’s attorney general has already released a statement calling the ruling illegitimate. Even if they did participate, polls show that with the current CNE, voter abstention would be high.

Abstaining from legislative elections this year will not only prevent the opposition from using one of the most effective tools for challenging authoritarianism, it will call into question the basis of Juan Guaidó’s legitimacy. The argument for his assuming the interim presidency was based on the idea that Maduro’s continuing as president despite an illegimate election in May 2018, amounted to an “abandonment” of the presidency, which according to Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitutions calls for the president of the National Assembly to step in. If Guaidó’s mandate as a legislator runs out in January 2021 it is likely that some part of his international recognition will crumble.

International Engagement

  • The United Nations called on Venezuela’s political leaders to urgently resume serious negotiations that would resolve the country’s critical situation. U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the U.N. Security Council that the organization and its general secretary, António Guterres, remain convinced that “a real negotiation among Venezuela’s main political actors is the only way forward.”
  • The International Donors Conference organized by the European Union together with the government of Spain, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) managed to raised $2.79 billion in direct donations, loans and governmental assistance.
    • The European Union will offer 2 million euros direct aid and another 400 million euros in loans from the European Investment Bank.
    • The United States announced that it would offer more than 200 million dollars extra aid.

COVID-19

  • Venezuela has 1,211 cases of Covid-19 and 11 deaths from the virus so far. Maduro repeatedly argues that the majority of the people that suffer from the virus, almost two thirds (737), are return migrants. He claims he has evidence that shows that Colombian President Iván Duque, intentionally infects Venezuelans returning home from Colombia to spread the virus in the country.
  • Human Rights Watch and the Johns Hopkins University’s Centers for Public Health and Human Rights pleaded for the international community to provide sufficient humanitarian aid to Venezuela during the pandemic.
  • The UNHCR warned that many displaced indigenous communities are now dangerously exposed to COVID-19. Similarly, organizations and bishops of the Catholic Church have likewise expressed concern.
  • The organization Orpia – Wataniba is monitoring the pandemic in Panamazonia and publishes a periodic bulletin with data and information of how the pandemic impacts on the indigenous populations.

Migration

  • The government of Maduro attacked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) after they issues a tweet saying Venezuela had one of the largest displacement crises in the world. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the organization is using Venezuelan migration for another dispute over resources, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human Rights

  • The Venezuelan journalist, Vladimir Villegas announced that his television program, Vladimir at 1 pm, will stop its broadcasting from the Globovisión Tv Channel. Villegas assures that his program terminates due to pressures from the government of Nicolás Maduro. Vladimir at 1 pm was one of the last plural political talk shows in Venezuela.
  • Despite the national lock-down for the COVID-19 pandemic the Venezuelan state continues arresting political opponents. The NGO Foro Penal reported that in the last week the state arrested 26 new political prisoners. The organization says that in Venezuela exist 428 political prisoners.

Services

  • A domestic gas crisis is developing due to problems of processing and distribution at PDVSA facilities.
  • Protests over the lack of cooking gas and water have been commonplace over the past week.

Femicide

Economy

  • A US federal court has given the go-ahead to the potential sale of shares of the Venezuelan interest and U.S. based refiner Citgo after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.