Mérida, June 17, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The US State Department has voiced opposition to upcoming parliamentary elections in Venezuela.
In a press statement published on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the recent Supreme Court (TSJ) appointment of a new electoral council (CNE).
“The regime has selected a CNE that will rubber-stamp its decisions and ignore the conditions required for free elections,” the statement said, adding that “elections that represent the will of the people are impossible.”
The Trump administration has repeatedly refused to recognize any elections while President Nicolas Maduro remains in office. In March, the State Department released a “transition” plan with a five-person “Council of State” assuming power and convening presidential and legislative elections. Washington has vowed to ramp up sanctions until Caracas accepts the deal.
The Venezuelan Supreme Court swore in a new CNE on Friday, with former TSJ justice Indira Alfonzo assuming the presidency. While Venezuelan law mandates that the CNE be chosen by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly (AN), the judicial body stepped in following a request from minority opposition parties in order to guarantee elections this year. The TSJ had also appointed the CNE in 2003, 2005, and 2014 when the AN failed to secure the necessary majority.
Pompeo’s statement came amid another pair of controversial rulings by the high court.
On Monday, the TSJ suspended the current leadership of Venezuela’s largest opposition party, Democratic Action (AD), and named a new ad hoc one headed by former Amazonas State Governor Bernabe Gutierrez.
The brother of newly-appointed CNE Rector Jose Gutierrez, Bernabe Gutierrez previously served as the party’s national secretary before he was expelled by AD Secretary General Henry Ramos Allup on Monday for “conspiring” with President Nicolas Maduro to participate in the upcoming elections. The TSJ order provisionally anulls all party expulsions and exclusions.
Ramos Allup lashed out at the move as a “robbery,” challenging Gutierrez to “come here and take [the headquarters of] Democratic Action.”
For his part, Gutierrez released a statement accusing the ex-secretary general of operating a “regime of terror” and announcing a new era of “internal democracy, of the right to opine, to dissent… without fear of being expelled.” The party leader additionally confirmed that AD would participate in parliamentary elections later this year, which Ramos Allup had previously announced in March.
Ramos Allup has long been infamous for authoritarian leadership style and hostility to elections, with US State Department cables describing the party under his tenure as not only “extremely vertically organized” but “dictatorial.”
Hard-right opposition figures have, however, denounced the standoff within Democratic Action as staged, accusing Ramos Allup of ordering Gutierrez to negotiate with the Maduro government in his stead out of fear of US sanctions.
In 2017, the AD boss announced that four governors from the party had "expelled themselves" after they swore in before the National Constituent Assembly. The elected officials remain members of AD to this day.
The TSJ ruling was followed by a similar one on Tuesday suspending the leadership of the right-wing Justice First (PJ) party. National Assembly Deputy Jose Brito, who broke with opposition leader Juan Guaido over a series of mutual corruption allegations late last year, was named national coordinator of the party. Following his expulsion from PJ in December, the lawmaker filed a TSJ motion for his reinstatement, claiming that his exclusion was “illegal” and demanding internal party elections.
Brito has likewise confirmed that PJ will participate in AN elections, stating that the majority of the party rank-and-file “want to go to elections.”
PJ’s national coordinator Julio Borges blasted the attempt to “steal” the party, adding that the party is “united and in high spirits, with the goal of restoring freedom to Venezuela.” Borges, who serves as opposition representative before the Lima Group, is sought by Venezuelan prosecutors for his alleged involvement in the 2018 assassination attempt against President Nicolas Maduro.
EU weighs in
The European Union also released a statement criticizing the CNE appointment and TSJ rulings.
“These decisions reduce the democratic space in the country to a minimum and create additional obstacles to the resolution of the profound political crisis in Venezuela,” the statement read, before urging the Venezuelan government and opposition to “engage in meaningful and inclusive negotiations” concerning the CNE and electoral participation.
In response, President Maduro blasted the EU’s “colonialist vision” and urged the body to “leave Venezuela alone.”
“Venezuela will have its elections. We do not care about the European Union,” he said in a televised address on Monday.
On Tuesday, Maduro held a conference call with members of the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV), urging the party to nominate fresh candidates for AN elections, to open the door to grassroots candidates and strengthen alliances with other parties.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself “interim president” last year with the support of Washington, has vowed to boycott the elections, proposing to extend the opposition-controlled AN’s mandate through 2021.
Under Venezuela’s constitution, legislative elections must be held before the end of the year.
Ricardo Vaz reporting from Mérida and Lucas Koerner from Santiago de Chile.