Caracas, October 17, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Nicolás Maduro government and the US-backed Venezuelan opposition, grouped in the self-styled “Unitary Platform,” signed an agreement laying out conditions for upcoming presidential elections.
With mediation from Norway, the two parties met in Barbados on Tuesday to restart talks that had been suspended for nearly a year.
The accord, titled “Partial Agreement on the Promotion of Political Rights and Electoral Guarantees for All,” rejected any “political violence” against Venezuela or its state institutions, and laid out twelve points concerning the presidential vote.
The agreed-to items include holding the election in the latter half of 2024, updating the electoral registry, promoting a balanced media coverage and publicly recognizing the results. The two parties likewise pledged to invite international observation missions from organizations including the African Union, the European Union and the Carter Center.
Finally, the document contains several points pertaining to electoral guarantees for candidates, such as having all candidates allowed to run granted they do not break the law or the Venezuelan Constitution.
The Venezuelan government and the Unitary Platform went on to sign a second, four-point joint accord titled “Partial Agreement for the Protection of the Nation’s Vital Interests.” The text reiterates Venezuela’s claim over the Essequibo Strip and a rejection of recent actions by neighboring Guyana in granting oil exploration licenses in the disputed area’s territorial waters.
The two sides likewise vowed to “defend the assets and property” of Citgo, a US-based subsidiary of state oil company PDVSA. Valued at US $10-13 billion, Citgo is set to undergo a court-mandated auction of shares to satisfy a number of international arbitration awards. Former self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó and his associates have drawn severe criticism for jeopardizing the country’s most prized foreign asset.
Venezuela’s National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez, who heads the government delegation, praised the return to talks and stated that their “ultimate goal” is the full lifting of unilateral sanctions from Washington and its allies.
However, he clarified that the agreement does not lift any bans on opposition politicians currently barred from political office. Several media outlets had reported that it would be part of the deal.
“If you have been ruled ineligible by the competent body, the Comptroller’s Office, then you are not allowed to run in an election,” Rodríguez said in the press conference that followed the session. “I want to make that clear.”
President Nicolás Maduro also commented on the renewed negotiations via X/Twitter, stressing that his government has “always promoted dialogue.”
“These agreements are a first step toward the full removal of sanctions,” he wrote, adding that it would lead to economic growth and the consolidation of peace and democracy.
For his part, opposition lead negotiator Gerardo Blyde called the agreements “another step” and assured that negotiations would continue. He added that the accords secured “concrete guarantees” for the upcoming elections.
Blyde added that the talks included a “path” towards the removal of political bans. A number of opposition parties are staging a primary election on October 22 in hopes of rallying behind a unitary candidate. Far-right María Corina Machado, who leads most opinion polls, is currently barred from holding political office for 15 years for her alleged involvement in regime-change plots.
The two sides have been engaged in stop-start dialogue held in Mexico since 2021 with the 2024 electoral conditions as one of the main priorities. After years of boycotts, the hardline opposition decided to return to the ballot.
The talks last broke down after a November 2022 agreement to create a $3 billion fund, drawn from Venezuelan assets abroad, to attend to urgent needs in healthcare, education and infrastructure repairs. Nevertheless, the resources have yet to be released due to Washington not ensuring they would be safe from creditors.
Several media outlets had reported that the resumption of negotiations between the two sides and the agreements pertaining to the 2024 vote would lead to Washington offering limited sanctions relief measures to the Caribbean nation. Reuters named French company Maurel & Prom as a candidate to get a greenlight to secure a crude-for-debt deal with PDVSA.
However, at the time of writing, the US Treasury Department has only amended a license granted to Trinidad and Tobago allowing the country to jointly explore offshore natural gas reserves. Port of Spain had lobbied for an amendment after Caracas complained of “colonial” conditions that barred PDVSA from getting any cash payments. The new license allegedly allows the Venezuelan company to be paid.
The Biden administration has consistently pressed for “free and fair” electoral conditions following repeated unfounded allegations that previous contests had been fraudulent. The White House has left Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions policy in place with minor exceptions including a limited license granted to oil giant Chevron in November 2022.
The US government has been motivated to reengage with its Venezuelan counterpart in a bid to lower oil prices on the global market. It has also faced growing pressure domestic due to the arrival of large numbers of Venezuelan migrants to US territory.
José Luis Granados Ceja reporting from New York and Ricardo Vaz from Caracas.