MEXICO CITY (AP) — Venezuela’s government and an opposition faction have agreed to a process through which would-be presidential candidates barred from running for office can attempt to overturn that decision. The timeline for filing an appeal opened on Friday.
The deal, released late Thursday by negotiators from each side and the Norwegian diplomats leading the dialogue, gives candidates until Dec. 15 to challenge their ban — a tool the Venezuelan government has repeatedly used to sideline opponents, including most recently against opposition leader and presidential candidate María Corina Machado.
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The agreement is part of a broader deal signed in October between a US-backed opposition group and the government of Nicolas Maduro, which focused on electoral conditions ahead of the 2024 presidential election. It is also expected to prevent the US government from imposing renewed some economic sanctions on the Maduro government.
The October deal eased sanctions on the oil, gas and mining sectors. But the US government, aware that Maduro has violated agreements in the past, has threatened to withdraw some of the relief if the Venezuelan government fails to establish by the end of November a timetable and process to quickly reinstate all the candidates.
The deal announced Thursday instructs interested candidates to appeal in person before the electoral division of Venezuela’s highest court, which is packed with judges loyal to the government and a little more than a month ago suspended its primary election process opposition.
The steps outlined in the agreement also force the concerned applicants into a virtual gag, barring them from incorporating “offensive or disrespectful concepts against the institutions of the state” into their appeal and public statements.
The document leaves open to interpretation what constitutes offensive or disrespectful comments. There is also no timetable for the judges to rule on the request, saying only that they will do so “in accordance with the principles of speed, efficiency and effectiveness enshrined in the Constitution”.
“It’s really confusing, it’s really subtle and it’s really quite comical in many ways,” said Ryan Berg, director of the Americas Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We have been demanding this process, but this is essentially Maduro telling us when in the future he decides to make an executive decision on candidate bans.”
Despite the lack of clarity on the process, Berg said, it seems likely that “that will be enough” for the Biden administration to stop the sanctions review.
Machado, a former lawmaker and longtime foe of the government, won the opposition primary with more than 90 percent of support. The government announced a 15-year ban against Machado days after she officially entered the race, but she was able to participate in the election because the effort was organized by a committee that did not receive help from Venezuela’s electoral authorities.
Machado’s campaign on Friday declined to comment on the appeals process. Her ban cites fraud and tax violations and accuses her of pursuing US economic sanctions on Venezuela.
“On October 22, people took care of the absurd attempt to block me,” she told supporters Thursday before the deal was announced. “The only thing that matters to me is what people think. The only thing I’m committed to… is building this citizen power that will defeat Nicolas Maduro or whoever wants to put me against me.”
A U.N.-backed panel investigating human rights abuses in Venezuela earlier this year said Maduro’s government has stepped up efforts to curtail democratic freedoms ahead of elections in 2024. This includes submitting some politicians, defenders of human rights and other adversaries in detention, surveillance, threats, smear campaigns and arbitrary criminal proceedings.
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Negotiations between Maduro’s government and the US-backed opposition United Platform began in 2021 in Mexico City with the mediation of Norwegian diplomats. But the dialogue stopped at various points.
From the start, Maduro has asked the US to lift economic sanctions and unfreeze Venezuelan funds held abroad. The opposition sought election guarantees to avoid conditions in previous polls widely seen as favoring pro-government candidates.