Venezuela saw two electoral processes in the last week: legislative elections on December 6, and the opposition’s own referendum on December 12. While the events served as a way for the opposition and the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) to mobilize their respective bases, the parallel projects also highlighted how distant the prospect for free and fair elections seems in the country.
On Sunday, December 6, Venezuela held elections for a new National Assembly in a process that was marked by widespread irregularities. In the lead-up to the vote, three of the four main opposition parties were essentially co-opted—their leadership was stripped of formal recognition, and handed over to figures perceived as more friendly to the de facto Maduro government. According to National Electoral Council, which was named by the Supreme Court rather than the National Assembly as the Constitution mandates, PSUV candidates received 69.4 percent of the vote. However, due to changes in the distribution system agreed to by the participating parties, this gave Chavismo the lion’s share of seats (91 percent, or 253 out of 277 seats) and left non-PSUV parties with just 21 seats. The Observatorio Electoral Venezolano (OEV) has a thorough report on the documented irregularities in the process leading up to the vote, and those witnessed on the day of.
Citing the irregularities in the process, the mainstream opposition bloc, led by National Assembly President Juan Guaido, boycotted the elections. The electorate also showed little interest in participating in an election that many saw as a sham, with the CNE claiming that roughly 30 percent of eligible Venezuelans voted. If accurate, this would mean turnout fell almost 45 points compared to the massive participation in the previous legislative election in 2015.
A significant number of countries and organizations have rejected the election and its results. Prodavinci has a roundup the 49 governments across the globe that have said they will not recognized the election results, including the US, the European Union, and the UK. Sixteen regional countries, including most members of the Lima Group, strongly rejected the electoral process and made an urgent call for a peaceful transition process in Venezuela that will lead to free and fair presidential elections. Nonetheless, Mexico, Bolivia, and Argentina have not signed the declaration. Despite being members of the International Contact Group, neither Argentina nor Bolivia joined the ICG statement asserting that it “cannot recognise the results of this electoral process as legitimate or representative of the will of the Venezuelan people.”
From December 7-12, the opposition sought to capitalize on discontent with the vote by organizing its own referendum, asking Venezuelans three questions (whether they want Maduro’s resignation and free elections, whether they reject the legislative vote, and whether they support international pressure) in a process through which all Venezuelans could participate either in person, Telegram, or the specialized voting app Voatz. While the opposition claimed that more people participated in their referendum than in the legislative election (nearly 6.5 million), the Associated Press notes it has not been possible to verify this figure. Leading Venezuelan electoral analyst and journalist Eugenio Martinez has noted that the opposition referendum did not prevent double voting and suggests that less than 3 million may be a more realistic estimate. For this reason, Martinez suggests it is more valuable to assess the referendum as evidence of the opposition’s continued mobilizing capacity, rather than as an auditable vote.
- On December 12, Trinidadian press reported that Venezuelan authorities had located the bodies of 11 refugees, including several children, who fled the country for Trinidad and Tobago, who had been missing since their boat capsized the week before. More than 20 were believed to be on the boat, and it is unclear if those remaining have been located. The incident has raised attention on social media, and some NGOs (see Rocio San Miguel of Control Ciudadano have claimed the total death toll is 19). In response to the incident several journalists and NGOs have promoted a social media campaign comparing the incident to similar drownings of Syrian refugees using the hashtag #NaúfragosdeGüiria.
- Maduro government representatives actually met with Trinidad and Tobago counterparts on December 4 to discuss maritime security, and one issue on the reported agenda included migrant smuggling, although there was no reported outcome of the discussion. Trinidad and Tobago has been heavily criticized by human rights groups for its repeated deportation of asylum seekers as well as of migrants.
- A study published by human rights groups Centro de Estudios Populares and Cecodap shows the deplorable conditions in the shelters that Maduro’s government set up on the border with Colombia to accommodate returned Venezuelan migrants during their compulsory quarantine period before they are allowed to return home.
Internal Opposition Dissent
- Two time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who has recently re-emerged on the political scene in Venezuela as a dissenting figure within the opposition, gave a much circulated interview to BBC Mundo this week. In it, Capriles argues that the opposition should not dismiss further electoral participation outright, and asserts that the current status quo (referring to an opposition embracing its status as an interim government at the expense of domestic relevance) is a disastrous stalemate.. He also claims that the idea of the National Assembly justifying continuing its own mandate without new elections is a dangerous path, as Maduro could use the same argument and remain in the presidency without holding elections.
- The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned the China National Electronic Import-Export Company (CEIEC) for supporting the Venezuelan government in “its efforts to restrict internet service and conduct digital surveillance and cyber operations against political opponent.” China reacted strongly, rejecting the “illegal sanctions” against CEIEC and calling the US to lift them.
- The United Kingdom, which until now has followed EU sanctions policy on Venezuela, has sanctioned an additional three individual members of the Venezuelan security forces.
- Bloomberg reports that Iran is sending its biggest yet fleet of tankers loaded with fuel to Venezuela in defiance of U.S. sanctions. The agency says that the tankers will load Venezuelan crude once they discharge the fuel in Venezuela, helping Maduro’s government export parts of its crude stocking.
Violence and Repression
- According to the webpage Utopix, 22 femicides took place in Venezuela during October. The total number of femicides reported in the Venezuelan press during 2020 has been 217.
- The government arrested two prominent Venezuelan oil union officials, charging them with treason, terrorism, and organized criminal association. One was charged for leaking internal information to international news media. The arrests have created anxiety for Venezuelan mid-level officials who leak internal data in order to counterbalance the distorted official information. Maduro continued the attack against the employees of the oil state company, PDVSA, saying that there are thousands of cases of employees acting in the interests of the United States.
- The Venezuelan Supreme Court sentenced six former US executives of oil company CITGO, a subsidiary of Venezuelan state oil giant PDVSA, to lengthy prison terms. The executives were convicted on corruption charges. Five of the executives are US citizens, and one of them is a permanent resident of the US. The US Department of State demanded that the six individuals be r released to the United States immediately.
- Oil production and exports have slightly recovered in recent weeks as China restarted loading oil directly from Venezuela and not using intermediaries after almost one year. The output in November was around 500,000 b/d, compared with some 360,000 b/d in October, a fraction of what it used to be the country’s production in the first years of Maduro’s government and before the US sanctions, too.
- Inflation in Venezuela accelerated to 65.70% in November, according to the National Assembly. The legislative body assured that accumulated inflation for 2020 stood at 3,045.92% and the interannual inflation at 4,087%.