BY: CLAUDIA A. GONZALEZ
Throughout 2017, Venezuela’s social, political and economic situation transformed from a crisis of a poorly managed government, to a potential humanitarian collapse. Inflation reached an all time high of 2.600%, malnutrition statistics grew, and general street protests erupted, becoming more and more violent. In 2018, inflation is expected to rise to 13,000% in the most conservative analysis – it is important to note that during January inflation hit 100%. The humanitarian crisis continues to grow, and people are fleeing the country in unprecedented numbers. And within this context, elections are expected happen in Venezuela during 2018.
As the Constitution mandates, every six years Venezuelans cast their ballots in the hopes of putting forth their political preferences in an effort to manifest change. According to the constitutional mandate, elections were to be set towards the end of the year.
On June 2016, the government proposed a Constituent National Assembly, to reform the Constitution, but when electing this Assembly offered no electoral warranties, therefore the opposition decided not to validate it constitution by not participating in this elections. Two weeks ago, this Constituent National Assembly, which is also not recognized as a legitimate body by the international community, issued a mandate to move elections to early this year. This move is not only widely unconstitutional as the Constitutional Block, a group of former legislators, seek to denounce the government’s wrong doings but it has also intensified the political crisis in the country.
In an even more concerning move, the Supreme Court called upon the Electoral Council (CNE) to prevent the renewal and validation of the Coalition of Opposition Parties, Mesa de la Unidad (MUD), as a political party. The move would ban them from participating in this coming election impeding on the overarching election process. Using this tact, the other two parties, which are part of the coalition were also barred from participating in the elections.
Amid this internal crisis, the international community has sought to intensify its efforts to find a political solution for the Venezuelan crisis. Two groups have taken initiatives towards finding common agreements that can restore both democratic rule and basic humanitarian safeguards in the country, the Grupo de Lima and the dialogues in the Dominican Republic.
The Grupo de Lima is convened by a group of 12 countries- Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia- that are looking to promote an initiative and find ways to pressurize the chavista regime, both economically and politically. The dialogues in the Dominican Republic is a mediation between the official representatives of the government and representatives of the MUD. With special mediation, regional envoys and political figures like Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the former Prime Minister of Spain, among others.
The groups have been meeting separately since mid 2017 until now. On one side Grupo de Lima has met and mostly issued statements condemning Maduro’s government. Amongst the member countries, Canada and Mexico’s rhetoric has been the strongest. On the other hand, the dialogue in the Dominican Republican has been ongoing since November 2017. But as well-intended as these diplomatic efforts have been, little to no agreement has been achieved. Furthermore, since the government announced two weeks ago that it would be moving the elections to early this year, delegations like those from Mexico and Colombia decided no further dialogue should be held with the government. Whatever little agreements there were have now suffered a major setback.
In spite of this, MUD representatives agreed to be part of the dialogue, until Wednesday February 7th afternoon, when both parties decided to put any conversation or dialogues with one another on an indefinite hold. When announcing the recess Julio Borges, MUD representative, asked the government not to commit any further mistakes by setting a date for the elections. Not surprisingly, less than four hours later CNE announced the date for the elections would be April 22nd, 2018.
Opposition leaders now have the difficult task of deciding whether or not they should participate in these elections. Throughout the dialogues, one of the key disputed demands was to allow humanitarian relief to enter the country along with setting a new date for elections with international observation. After the government unilaterally decided to move elections to early this year, negotiations narrowed down to the specific date of the elections as well as electoral conditions. By setting the election date, the government has finally closed any possibility of negotiations with opposition leaders, putting the opposition leaders alongside the international community in the precarious position to find a solution to the political crisis.
February 8th, will mark the beginning of a major dilemma for MUD in Venezuela, as they will be forced to decide on whether or not they participate on this election. The elections will almost certainly be held without any electoral warranties and without audited ballot machines. More importantly, there will be no infrastructure to coordinate polling station observers due to time constrains. What is most alarming is that since most opposition leaders are banned from running for these elections, the looming question remains who will run as the opposition candidate.
Even if the opposition agrees to participate in the elections, and unites to promote a single candidate for all the opposition forces, and somehow wins the elections, the most pressing question will still continue to loom- will Maduro actually abandon the office?
Considering Maduro’s administration has been willing to commit major atrocities with its population, in violation of international conventions on human rights, there is hardly any reason to believe that Maduro would step down. It is here that the notable work being done by the delegations participating in Grupo de Lima and Dominican Republic negotiations will be pivotal. The strength with which the regional and international community reacts to the legitimacy problem Venezuela will face come April will definitely be a game changer for Venezuela’s political, economical and social crisis.
Claudia A. Gonzalez is a Political Analyst with a background in economics. She is currently an Associate at Atheneum and holds a Master’s degree in Political Science. She has attended Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Universidad Catolica Andres Bello and the London School of Economics and Political Science.
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