In a few hours, some Venezuelans will go out to vote. Although they oppose Nicolás Maduro’s regime, which has been leading a dictatorship for more than twenty years, they think they have no other alternative. Others, on the other hand, are resisting. They are convinced that voting under the current conditions will not alter anything. Everything will remain the same; the regime will continue to rule.
Since 2017, when Maduro’s regime swept away Venezuela’s opposition-dominated Parliament with an illegal ruling by the Chavista Supreme Court, the opposition agreed on the strategy of disowning all electoral processes in Venezuela. The decision was ratified after Maduro imposed a National Constituent Assembly to which he subjected all public powers.
Initially, the strategy of not voting was supported by the international community, especially the United States. Each fraudulent electoral process met with the disavowal of the United States and most Western countries. This happened in the fake regional elections of 2017, in the presidential elections of 2018, and in the parliamentary elections of 2020.
But, at least in practical terms, almost nothing has changed. Although Maduro has been repudiated by the international community, which does not recognize him, he maintains de facto power in Venezuela. On the other hand, he has managed, little by little, to subdue the rest of the Venezuelan opposition. And several parties that for months supported the rejection of the elections, have given in. They will participate in the false regional elections this Sunday, November 21.
The opposition submitted to Chavismo’s game with false elections
The United States is not going to recognize the false elections of this Sunday, as already stated by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kevin O’Reilly. Specifically, he assured that the elections “will not be free.”
There is bipartisan consensus. One of the most relevant conservative voices in the GOP, Marco Rubio, said it unabashedly: this Sunday’s elections are not free and the United States should maintain sanctions until there are free elections. But Rubio went much further: he said that any opponent who participates in these false elections is “helping Maduro.”
“Those who are running, disguised as opposition figures, are the same ones who are helping the regime. Giving legitimacy to these fake elections will only prolong the agony of the Venezuelan people and perpetuate Maduro’s grip on power.”
Within Venezuela, one of the most important voices of the Venezuelan opposition, María Corina Machado, coordinator of the political party Vente Venezuela, agrees with Rubio. “The few fake opponents that are assigned with mayorships and governorships will try to set themselves up as the leaders of the opposition,” she told El American
“On Sunday, Venezuelan society is going to be much clearer about who is who,” Machado added. She, of course, refuses to participate in the fake elections. Her argument is Rubio’s: participation ends in an attempt to whitewash the Maduro regime. Alleged opponents who participate are ultimate “accomplices.”
“It is indispensable to have a purge,” Machado insists.
“Those who participate in this Sunday’s activity, consciously or unconsciously, are contributing to give an image of legitimacy, a whitewash! to Maduro’s criminal regime. This obviously has as its purpose, for the tyranny, to achieve its permanence in power. It seeks to stabilize and advance,” says the leader of Vente Venezuela.
Despite rejecting the sham elections, the interim government of Juan Guaidó — who is recognized by the U.S. — has advised against participating in them, ultimately maintaining a rather lukewarm stance on the matter. It has not accused those who participate of being accomplices of the Chavista regime, as Machado has done. And, in fact, several leaders of his party, Voluntad Popular, led by the well-known political prisoner Leopoldo López, are participating in the process.
In an interview with journalist Alejandro Marcano, Leopoldo López said: “The elections of November 21 are neither free nor fair. Nor are they verifiable”. López also said, to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, that there is a risk that an electoral mission of the European Union “legitimizes Maduro’s fraud.” However, López’s party is participating with dozens of candidates.
In total, Voluntad Popular has registered more than 30 candidates for mayors and two for governor, among them, Freddy Superlano — candidate for the governorship of the state of Barinas.
But within Voluntad Popular there is deep division around the sham elections. David Smolansky, the exiled former mayor of El Hatillo, Caracas, who is founder and one of the most important leaders of Voluntad Popular, said a few days ago in a tweet: “Since 2018 I exercise non-partisan functions for my role in the region to address the Venezuelan refugee crisis, but if I can recommend anything to Voluntad Popular, a party I founded and have militated for 12 years, it is that they renounce all aspirations for November 21. They have time.”
Likewise, in a forum, several Venezuelan opposition leaders subscribed to the idea of not participating in the sham elections of November 2, Antonio Ledezma, Smolansky who said: “Not voting in a dictatorship is also a right. Whoever does not vote today in Venezuela is exercising an act of civil disobedience.”
“Not voting in dictatorship is challenging those who today have the repressive apparatus. It is to challenge social control. Not voting is an admirable act. And only ten months ago, for the illegitimate parliamentary elections of 2020, there were no conditions; if three years ago there were no conditions either, why are there now? You can go on Sunday to vote, but you are not going to elect,” Smolansky added.
Smolansky is not the only one within Voluntad Popular who is against participating in the sham elections. Congressman Armando Armas, who is in exile and is also a founding member of the party, told El American that “this Sunday’s event cannot be considered an election. It is an adjudication.”
“The elections are illegal, they are illegitimate. These elections are precisely sought by the regime to achieve legitimacy. Legitimacy has to do with recognition, dialogue, acceptance. The regime is seeking to consolidate an opposition that suits it, that recognizes it as a political actor, not as the criminals that they are. The regime also aspires to reduce international tensions,” added Armas.
The Voluntad Popular deputy said that those who participate in the process and obtain a governorship or a mayoralty cannot set themselves up as “legitimate leaders of the opposition.”
“They are not,” he insisted to El American, “if an election is rigged, how is it that they are going to set themselves up as leaders, if it is on the basis of some adjudications? That is to say, are they leaders because the regime decided that they can participate and they are tolerated?”
Armas informed the whole party, internally, that he is against participating.
“Those who are in Venezuela believe that by participating they have a chance. They talk about using the spaces as trenches of struggle. We were against it and we had arguments. But in the end the majority decided to participate.”
“I think it is a mistake”, asserted the deputy. And, he agreed with Smolansky: “Non-participation before regimes of totalitarian cuts can mean a great message. It is not true that there were no alternatives to non-participation. There are.”
Armas added: “That day you could have called for a big peaceful demonstration against the sham elections”.
Iván Simonovis, who was one of the most recognized political prisoners of the dictatorship and was security commissioner of the interim government of Juan Guaidó, also opposes the idea of participating in the elections. “Here no one is going to win spaces. If anything, the regime will cede some spaces. No party has made any offer that is relevant. They sell a hope that they will never be able to fulfill. The regime is not going to allow any of them to shine because it is not interested”.
Simonovis warns that it is very likely that all the leaders who are awarded any governorship or mayorship are going to end up folded to the dictatorship’s strategy against the U.S. sanctions. “When they are given a governorship, they will tell them that there is no money because of the sanctions, so they will ask them to go to Washington, to crawl, to play the regime’s game.”
There are several voices that oppose participation. But, meanwhile, the big parties of the Venezuelan opposition are campaigning. From Voluntad Popular, Acción Democrática to Primero Justicia, all of them have registered candidates. Among the candidates of the latter, in fact, there are various who were in exile, such as Tomás Guanipa or José Manuel Olivares, who had fled Venezuela due to persecution or threats from the Chavista regime. Now they are walking the streets of Caracas campaigning.
Are there conditions or not?
Although Venezuela is a country governed by narco-terrorists accused by the U.S. Department of Justice, some are concerned about electoral conditions. Regarding this, the director of the organization Transparencia Electoral, Leandro Querido, is blunt.
“There are no conditions. Venezuela is the counterexample of what is meant by elections with integrity. Elections with integrity presuppose a state under the rule of law, competent and impartial electoral authorities, freedom of association and expression, and no concrete and tacit limits to effective participation. Furthermore, in the case of Venezuela there is a very marked context of institutional violence,” Querido told El American.
The director of Transparencia Electoral believes that, in this case, elections are a resource of the regime. “It is clear that elections are not exclusive to democratic regimes. Elections are also held in totalitarian, authoritarian or hybrid regimes. China holds elections, Cuba holds elections, North Korea holds elections and that does not make them democratic countries.”
“Also Nicaragua, which held elections with imprisoned or exiled opposition candidates. With political parties that are satellites of Daniel Ortega’s regime. Venezuela is the same. It is a situation of the highest institutional seriousness,” Querido said.
According to Leandro Querido, those who hold elections have the will to demonstrate to the international community that they have absolute control of power. That they win unanimously. They want to demonstrate cohesion and power. And it allows them to put the electoral machinery to work.
“It is also useful for totalitarian regimes to carry out internal purges.”
One of the arguments in favor of these sham elections in particular, has to do with the observation mission to be sent to Caracas by the European Union. However, it is important to note that Josep Borrell, the head of European diplomacy, decided to send this mission despite the recommendations of his own working team, which advised against accompanying the November 21 event due to the absence of conditions.
“The deployment of an European observation mission is likely to have an adverse impact on the reputation and credibility of this type of mission and indirectly contribute to legitimize the electoral process,” reads the technical report commissioned by Borrell himself. The head of diplomacy disregarded the recommendations.
An opportunity is born
Hours before this Sunday, it is difficult to know exactly how high the abstention rate will be. That figure, undoubtedly, throws an opportunity for the opposition leadership that refused to, as it says, whitewash the tyranny.
The United States rejects these elections. Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, too. “They are not going to be free, they are not going to be democratic,” Duque said from France in an interview with AFP. “It’s the same strategy that Maduro always seeks: fracture a sector of the opposition, invite them to the elections, let them win 4 or 5 or 6 governorships for him to look like a democrat in the eyes of the world and perpetuate his dictatorship.” The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has rejected all electoral processes in Venezuela as useful to Maduro. Meanwhile, a sector of the opposition insists on participating in a flawed process. This, undoubtedly, marginalizes him. It sets him apart and, also, sinks him.
In the face of this, the field remains empty. Fertile, in fact, for the emergence of an alternative. And that has been the discussion of the last few days.
In that sense, Iván Simonovis told El American: “A process of rearrangement of opponents is coming. Those who participate in these elections will carry that cross forever.”
In the forum of opposition leaders, Antonio Ledezma said: “My priority is to put together a political leadership. But a political leadership that will lead Venezuela towards freedom. A transition model for some factors to preserve parts of power? Don’t count on me. If they call me and tell me that there is a strategy with the sole purpose of liberating Venezuela, I will go there.”
“It is time to rectify. We are in conditions that open a provisional horizon to Venezuela,” said Ledezma, citing the investigation against Maduro by the International Criminal Court and the extradition of Alex Saab, the Chavista front man.
For his part, Smolansky asserted: “The political parties of the opposition are exhausted. There is a disconnection with Venezuelans. I believe that as of this Sunday that opposition structure is starting to collapse, it is starting to crumble. It is time for a coalition of leaders, not only from the political parties. Although I believe that there are many young people from those parties who can be rescued. But the coalition must go far beyond the parties.”
Smolansky insisted that a new project must be put together based on two principles: getting out of the dictatorship and rebuilding Venezuela.
“There is no point in getting out of the dictatorship if there is no genuine commitment to rebuild Venezuela,” said the founding member of Voluntad Popular.
The reflection on what is the next step is constant. As the traditional political leadership has been corroding for years, it is time for someone — or a coalition — to step up and take the lead. This is the great opportunity offered by November 21, as María Corina Machado agrees.
“We have the historic obligation, the responsibility, to build a new political leadership, but a very different one. It must be an alliance of citizens, of all sectors. From all corners of the country. From Venezuelans inside and outside. It is time for a huge call, around a single purpose: to get this system of mafias out of power,” Machado told El American.
Machado adds: “It must be a coalition with a clear political leadership, with the task of synchronizing all the forces from inside and outside. This coalition must make international allies understand Venezuela again as the main priority of the West, since this regime is a threat to the security of all countries in the hemisphere.”
The opposition leader and coordinator of Vente Venezuela assures that the will must be to “get these criminals out of power, free Venezuela and start its reconstruction, with a nation built on very solid republican, ethical and liberal pillars.”