Venezuela has experienced in this 2022 a foreseeable and unfortunate stabilization of authoritarianism. Its opposition organizations are fragmented, while the government of Nicolás Maduro has “metabolized” the effects of international sanctions. The moment seems to demand a new theory of change since the one put forward in January 2019, with the proclamation of an interim government, headed by Juan Guaidó, It has expired.
This country is an example of how the authoritarianism of the 21st century can be imposed on a society that is practically defenseless. The tactic of using mechanisms of repression and, at the same time, opening certain cracks, so that the pressure escapes, is functional.
It’s what happened with de facto dollarization that has allowed the shortage of daily consumer goods such as corn flour or milk to be mitigated, breathe a relief from the collective hardshipswhile the country finally came out of hyperinflation.
However, the service crisis is constant: in Caracas, the capital, having running water from the tap is almost a luxury. Teleworking routines are usually interrupted by a loud cry: they put the water on! More than one avoids leaving the house if they have not been able to shower and in other cases the stench, both at home and in other spaces, is unbearable. While in terms of the index of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, according to the Global Monitoring of Civic Space, Venezuela is a country with a restricted environment, a category it shares with other Latin American countries, such as Honduras, Colombia and Mexico.
But what is the way to achieve a democratization of the country? Did the Venezuelan crisis enter limbo? What options are viable and achievable to encourage a return to democracy? What role can the international community still play?
According to the most recent actions of the opposition, the electoral route is the most viable, although obviously the slowest and with a paved path.
A national opinion survey by the firm Delphos, released in July, found that 72.5% want political change through an election. This would go through a primaries, which is the current discussion of the oppositions; and then participate in a presidential election that, according to the law, must be held in 2024.
Obstacles to doing internal ones involve technical issues, political decisions, and finances. If these hurdles are overcome, the phase of the national elections, the conditions, and above all, that the opposition candidate can summon a majority to win would still be missing. Although according to the polls, Chavismo is a minority, as a political body it is the one with the greatest capacity for mobilization.
In another opinion study by the firm Datanalisis, none of the opposition presidential candidates, or who have expressed their intention to be candidates in a possible primary, exceeds 25% approval.
In any case, it is positive that the electoral agenda is taking flight in the opposition leadership that abstained in the parliamentarians of 2020 and in the 2018 presidential. The latter were the ones that led to the disregard of Maduro’s re-election by countries of the European Union and the United States. The opposition, however, chose to participate in the 2021 regional elections.
Holding elections adjusted to international standards is one of the issues on the agenda of the negotiating table that was installed in August 2021 in Mexico between the government of Nicolás Maduro and the opposition Unitarian Platform. In October 2021, the Chavista delegation arose, until further notice.
So far this year there have been unilateral attempts to revive the Mexican table. The invasion of Ukraine prompted a change in the United States government that last March sent Caracas a high-level delegation to speak with Maduro. From now on, instead of approaching the possibility of resuming the conversation, what is perceived is the disinterest of Chavismo in this path, while it continues to seek to have a direct relationship with the Biden administration and achieve more relaxation of sanctions.
In mid-June, another US commission traveled to the South American country. According to Maduro, this visit was to give “continuity to the communications started on March 5 and to give continuity to the bilateral agenda between the Government of the United States and the Government of Venezuela.”
The arrival of Gustavo Petro to the presidency in Colombia has generated conflicting expectations. Although the new president has more pressing concerns, he cannot escape the fact that in his country there are nearly 2.5 million Venezuelans who have migrated in the last five years. Although Petro began to take steps to reactivate relations between the two countries, he accepted that no representative of Maduro had been invited to his inauguration.
The new president of Colombia has said that he needs to resolve, among other things, the status of a joint Colombian-Venezuelan company, Monómeros, which produces fertilizers and since 2019 has been under the power of the opposition interim government. The Venezuelan partner is the state company Pequiven, over which the opposition has no control. This has made the fertilizers that Colombia uses in its fields more expensive.
It is just one example that denotes the need for Petro to handle himself with a filigree pulse if he includes among his range to contribute, together with other Latin American peers, especially from the left such as Boric or Lula -in case of being elected-, so that Venezuela lead the way to democratization.
That option does not depend only on the particular vision of Petro, and the needs of Colombia. In the first place, the political veteran has spent much of his time scaring away ghosts. He has had talks with the United States, a strategic partner of Colombia, which does not recognize Maduro as president, but has made his position more flexible.
The region has also changed politically and each government is dealing with its own problems, accentuated by the economic impact of two years of the pandemic.
However, the capabilities of the international community cannot be underestimated. An example of this is that the investigation that the International Criminal Court has opened into the commission of alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela, may have led to the fact that human rights violations, such as extrajudicial executions, have been reduced by almost more than 50%, even if you keep the “policy of high lethality by the State”according to a study by the NGO Provea.
The UN Fact-Finding Mission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have also documented the constant violations of human rights.
A presidential electoral process in Venezuela with international standards requires a series of conditions. Some of them have been identified by the European Union Mission that was in the country between October 14 and December 5, 2021. The mission made 23 recommendationssy warned about the pattern of “the lack of legal certainty, which caused the arbitrary disqualification of candidates, the extensive use of State resources in the campaign, the unequal access of the candidates to the media, and the delivery of the symbols and the electoral card to minority internal factions of some political parties”.
The resistance capacities of Venezuelans continue to be admirable. In the small civic space that still survives, there are different civil society initiatives that keep the flags raised. So that those arms do not end up exhausted, international actors, especially from the democratic left, like Petro, can make a difference.
The political changes in the region are a challenge and an opportunity. Maduro has much more oxygen, but breathing in power at the cost of lives and freedoms is not ideal. If Venezuela manages to advance in a peaceful, electoral solution that promotes a change towards democratization, a great precedent can be generated. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either.