Venezuela’s Upcoming Presidential Elections: A Conversation with Roy Daza

A veteran leftist and National Assembly representative talks about the upcoming elections and some of the antidemocratic tendencies in the opposition.
Roy Daza is VP of the National Assembly's Foreign Relations Commission and a member of the PSUV’s International Relations Vicepresidency. He is also the PSUV liaison for the São Paulo Forum. (Venezuelanalysis)

Venezuela is gearing up for presidential elections that will take place on July 28 of this year. This contest, in which the continuity of the Bolivarian Process is at stake, will involve twelve challengers to incumbent president Nicolás Maduro. In this interview, Roy Daza, who is Vice President of the National Assembly’s Foreign Relations Commission, explains the political and social context surrounding the elections. Along the way, he discusses ongoing attempts to destabilize the country and the reasons for disqualifying far-right María Corina Machado.

Can you describe Venezuela’s political landscape as we approach the July 28 presidential elections?

The starting point for explaining Venezuela’s situation is the implementation of unilateral coercive measures, which have become the weapon of choice to overthrow Venezuela’s democratically-elected government. Of course, the sanctions regime implemented against our people has been accompanied by coup plans, a magnicide attempt, political destabilization efforts, and street violence known as “guarimbas.” 

On top of this, there is a diplomatic siege against our nation led by the United States, the Organization of American States [OAS], and the now-defunct Lima Group. 

The US sanctions regime has had a huge impact on our finances and oil production, which is the country’s primary export. This has led not just to an economic crisis, but plunged us into a state of economic catastrophe with profound social and political ramifications.

In response to this imperialist onslaught, our government has consistently opted for democratic responses: it has held [parliamentary and regional] elections, convened a Constituent Assembly, and entered into dialogue with those opposition groups that are open to engagement.

I want to mention three crucial episodes that have occurred in recent years. First, there was the defeat of Donald Trump’s 2019 plan to oust our government by promoting an “interim government” led by Juan Guaidó. This led to a split in the opposition, followed by a dialogue between the government and certain sectors of the right in September 2019.

The second episode is the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020. The effective response, both by the government of President Nicolás Maduro and by the people, became a victory that demonstrated our political resilience and stability.

The third episode is the December 2020 elections, when revolutionary forces were able to regain control of the National Assembly by a wide margin.

Political stability and the government’s policies have contributed to an important, albeit incomplete, economic recovery that is palpable in the streets of Caracas and beyond.

However, US imperialism is attempting to reactivate its destabilization strategy hand-in-hand with the most extreme factions of the Venezuelan opposition. They aim to lead us back into a downward spiral of violence and uncertainty.

We are facing a complex situation, due to the long-lasting effects of the brutal US blockade. However, there is a consensus in Venezuela that we need peace and tranquility. Faced with this new destabilization plan, the government’s response has been, once again, democratic. There are two very important parts to that response.

The first is a consultative process that will take place on April 21 involving 4500 communities spread around the country. The purpose of this consultation, an important exercise in participative and protagonistic democracy, is to identify local needs or problems [related to infrastructure, services, or production] that will be addressed with government financing.

The second one is, of course, the July 28 presidential elections, which will be a major battle for political power.

María Corina Machado’s political disqualification from the July 28 presidential elections has drawn media headlines and even political stances from foreign governments. Can you explain what it is about?

María Corina Machado was disqualified back in 2015. Why? Because she participated in an OAS conference on behalf of another country [Panamá] in violation of her duties as a member of the National Assembly. There, she advocated for imposing sanctions against Venezuela. She also called for military intervention by invoking the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance [TIAR]. 

Her call for military intervention was followed by two visible military incursion attempts in February 2019 and May 2020. That points to a relation of cause and effect. 

Ms. Machado’s actions disqualified her. She knows it, and at this point, the international community should know it as well. However, despite her ban, Ms. Machado ran in a primary organized by a far-right group [the National Primary Commission] in October 2023. It’s worth noting that, by the organizers’ choice, this process was not supervised by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council [CNE].

The truth behind their October primaries is crucial. At that time, the far-right was already divided because Manuel Rosales, a prominent opposition figure, decided not to participate. Rosales got 650 thousand votes when he ran for governor of Zulia in 2021. The Fuerza Vecinal party didn’t participate in the October event either; this is another party that backs Rosales’ candidacy and runs municipalities in half of greater Caracas and in various cities around the country.

Moreover, everyone in the opposition knew that Ms. Machado would not be able to register. She decided instead to stage a drama by attempting to launch someone as a candidate with a name close to her own [Corina Yoris]. That didn’t work because Ms. Machado’s party is not registered by the CNE. 

Why isn’t her party registered by the CNE?

Because she called for abstention in the last few electoral processes, and Venezuelan law states that a party will lose its CNE registration if it does not participate in two or more consecutive elections. Incidentally, Ms. Machado‘s party could have also collected signatures to renew the subscription of her party, but they chose not to. 

Finally, I should point out that nothing would have kept Ms. Machado’s proxy from being inscribed as an opposition candidate by parties like Un Nuevo Tiempo, Fuerza Vecinal, or Mesa de la Unidad, but they decided not to. 

What are your thoughts on the concerns raised by Gustavo Petro and Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva regarding Venezuela’s electoral process?

Anyone can have opinions about a democratic process in any country and has the right to express them. However, they should inform themselves before voicing such concerns. Why didn’t Petro and Lula reach out to opposition candidates such as Edmundo González [Mesa de la Unidad] or Manuel Rosales to gain insights on the matter?

Multiple opposition parties have registered Rosales as their candidate, thereby endorsing the legitimacy of our electoral process.

In the end, one has to ask: What does the National Electoral Council [CNE], the United Socialist Party [PSUV] or Nicolás Maduro’s government have to do with the internal dynamics of the opposition? The opposition is grappling with internal divisions. Several parties backed Rosales but there are 10 other opposition candidates on the ballot. On the other hand, Chavista forces have one candidate only: Nicolás Maduro. Simply put, the situation of the opposition is chaotic. 

Before launching criticisms, Lula and Petro would do well to inform themselves. The situation is particularly contradictory when it comes to President Lula. María Corina Machado is an ally of Jair Bolsonaro who is, as I understand it, not able to run for office because his participation in the attempted coup on January 1, 2023, renders him ineligible. 

What would Lula think if, in an upcoming presidential race in Brazil, we expressed our concerns about Bolsonaro’s disqualification?

What can we expect in the next three months? 

We will be facing an extremely complex situation. Seven magnicide conspiracies in less than two years… Security measures have been heightened, but this is not an ideal situation for an electoral campaign. 

We wanted the electoral process to occur in a context of peace and tranquility, but the extreme right and its imperialist bosses will do all they can to generate instability. 

Our aspiration remains simple: a peaceful campaign where all candidates can present their proposals and vie for votes without imperialist interference. We believe in the democratic principle of majority rule, regardless of the outcome.

Instead, the electoral process will take place in a situation marked by the long-lasting consequences of the sanctions, the threat of the reinstatement of all the coercive measures that were temporarily lifted, and the knowledge that a sector of the right wing is likely to be conspiring against the life of our candidate. 

In the broader context, there are three additional factors that deserve consideration. First, the International Court of Justice [ICJ] might soon give its verdict regarding the Essequibo. Whatever the verdict, however, it has no possibility of being executed because the ICJ has no jurisdiction over our territory, but it could be exploited to undermine the July electoral process. 

Second, there are Ms. Machado’s false accusations against President Maduro, and her attempt to bring them before the International Criminal Court. I just talked to someone who is following the situation, and he told me that from a legal standpoint, it’s practically impossible for the case to proceed. However, we have to keep an eye on this. 

Finally, there’s an attempt to spread the idea that candidates can be substituted, contrary to Venezuelan law. The nomination process closed on March 25th at midnight. The only thing that can change in the following months is that a registered party replaces its presidential candidate among those who already registered through the CNE.

So Acción Democrática could replace its current candidate, Luis Eduardo Martínez, who registered at the CNE, with Manuel Rosales, who is also registered there. Is this correct?

Indeed, no new candidates can be added to the ballot beyond the 13 who registered in due time. There is, however, a misinformation campaign to suggest that that is not the case. Venezuelan law does not permit the addition of new candidates at this stage.

The far-right forces led by Ms. Machado are simply disregarding Venezuela’s electoral legislation and the authority of the National Assembly, which is the body that initiates electoral processes and appoints the CNE. 

Further, the far-right platform [behind the October primaries] prevented the CNE from providing technical assistance for their primary elections. Why? Because Ms. Machado’s agenda isn’t democratic. Instead, she and the far-right fraction that accompanies her aim to destabilize Venezuelan democracy.

What are your predictions concerning for the July 28 elections?

The PSUV, the Patriotic Pole [which brings together Chavista parties], and the social movements are very diverse, but they have two distinct advantages. The first is that we have one candidate who unifies us. 

The second is that success begets success: we survived the 2017 guarimbas, we dismantled the Juan Guaidó plan, we defeated the May 2020 mercenary invasion, we overcame the COVID pandemic, we won the National Assembly in December 2020, and we defeated the right wing in the 2021 regional and local elections. 

Additionally, we have witnessed a tangible economic recovery, albeit still incomplete, and have been restoring the welfare state, which is an integral aspect of the Bolivarian Government’s program. This leads me to believe that on July 28, the combined effects of the victories since 2017 will lead to a great triumph.

[Interview date: April 4, 2024]