Mérida, July 12, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The European Union (EU) has sent an “exploratory mission” to Venezuela to assess social and political conditions in the country.
The 15-day mission is similarly charged with judging electoral guarantees and the “utility, convenience and viability” of adding an EU delegation to the typically ample electoral observer teams for the November 21 “mega-elections,” in which more than 100 political parties are vying to elect over 3000 public regional and local officials.
The delegation is considered a further step in smoothing relations between the Caribbean country and the European bloc, with EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell highlighting a “possible political opening in Venezuela.” Its findings could also have important consequences for the local political scene, with some opposition forces conditioning their electoral participation on the EU’s validation of the process.
The mission, which is made up of four electoral specialists and three EU representatives, arrived in Caracas on Thursday and has already met with National Electoral Council (CNE) authorities, National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez and Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who highlighted the “favourable political climate” for the upcoming elections.
Equally, it met with prominent opposition representatives from a range of tendencies on Friday. Those participating included the newly reconstituted MUD alliance, Carlos Ocariz (Justice First), Ángelo Palmieri (A New Era) and Roberto Enríquez (COPEI). Likewise present were Freddy Guevara (Popular Will) and Delsa Solórzano (Citizens Encounter), both of whom are close to US-backed opposition frontman Juan Guaidó. A team from Guaidó’s office also recently met with EU representatives in Brussels to reportedly discuss electoral guarantees.
Before returning to Brussels, the EU mission is reportedly due to hold meetings with the Attorney General and Ombudsman’s offices, as well as a range of social movements and NGOs.
The EU followed a number of Latin American nations in backtracking on its recognition of Guaidó as the country’s “interim president” in January, sparking a thawing of relations with Caracas. Despite new sanctions being unveiled in February and a consequent repeat of the 2020 temporary break in diplomatic relations, the bloc recently joined Canada and the US in changing its tone and promising to “review” the blockade should a range of conditions be met, including the implementation of so-called “international standards for democracy.”
The EU has consistently rejected the CNE’s invitations to observe elections, later claiming the processes ̶ including the 2018 presidential and 2020 parliamentary votes ̶ suffered from unspecified and unproven “irregularities” which allegedly undermined their transparency and reliability. In contrast, independent on-the-ground electoral missions have endorsed Venezuela’s mixed electoral system as one of the world’s most transparent and trustworthy.
New government-opposition talks scheduled
Alongside the EU mission, Venezuelan authorities have also reportedly hosted a Norwegian delegation this week to finalize plans for a new round of talks between government and opposition representatives.
According to unnamed sources quoted by Reuters, the negotiations are scheduled to be held in Mexico at the start of August, and will be mediated by “international parties” including the Norwegian government. The sources went on to indicate that “larger” delegations are expected to be involved than in the past in a “more complete and complex process.”
The Venezuelan government has held “fruitful” talks with some of the more moderate opposition factions continuously since September 2019, including former presidential candidates Henri Falcon and Javier Bertucci and the Chamber of Business and Commerce (FEDECAMARAS) and of Industry (FEDEINDUSTRIA). The talks have delivered concrete results with regards to increased opposition participation in the December 2020 legislative elections, consensual electoral guarantees, and the release of a number of detained opposition activists.
Previous attempts to sit down with the US-backed opposition, however, have failed on multiple occasions. In 2019, talks held in both Norway and Barbados collapsed after government representatives walked away following the imposition of new wide-reaching US sanctions. Likewise, in 2017-8, opposition leaders abandoned talks in the Dominican Republic, reportedly after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson phoned lead negotiator Julio Borges.
Both Guaidó and President Nicolás Maduro have placed conditions on any new talks, with the former pressing for “free and fair” electoral guarantees led by EU observers and the government calling for a lifting of the blockade against the country and the return of frozen or seized assets.
However, tensions ran high between the Guaidó camp and government forces on Monday after the former National Assembly president denounced that police had entered his home and threatened him. Moments before, Guaidó ally Guevara was detained on a Caracas highway.
[UPDATE] On Monday afternoon, the attorney general's office confirmed Guevara's arrest, accusing him of ties to "Colombian extremist and paramilitary groups." The former deputy will be charged with terrorism, criminal association, anti-constitutional activities and treason.
In response to the arrest, Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco claimed that it nullified any potential participation of the Guaidó camp in the upcoming elections, linking it to the presence of the EU exploratory mission.