With presidential elections on the horizon at the end of 2024, Venezuela is moving toward political normalization. The agreement signed this week, on the island of Barbados in the Caribbean, between Chavismo and the opposition finally establishes an election calendar, after months of fruitless negotiations.
The agreement also led to the temporary suspension of some sanctions imposed by Washington on the Government of Nicolás Maduro, which responded by releasing five political prisoners. Only one obstacle prevents this path of dialogue: the disqualification of the anti-Chavista leader María Corina Machado, a big favorite in the primaries held this Sunday by the opposition to choose a presidential candidate.
Only one obstacle stands in the way of dialogue: the disqualification of anti-Chavista leader María Corina Machado
The political dialogue, which was closed in Mexico in 2021, resumed a year ago with some progress in economic and social matters, and a first rapprochement between Caracas and Washington. With the Barbados pact, signed under the mediation of Norway, the opposition ensured the calling of presidential elections in the second half of 2024.
If there is no return, it is likely that Venezuelans will go to the polls in December of the year. “This delegation takes the first step to develop an electoral process with a concrete guarantee that will lead to political change,” said Gerardo Blyde, head of negotiations with the opposition Unitary Platform.
There are still, however, some stones on the road to normalization. The main obstacle is the political disqualification of the most prominent figures in the anti-Chavista sphere by the authorities. This is the case of Machado, the leader who is likely to win the opposition’s primary elections this Sunday.
With the withdrawal of Henrique Capriles, the leader of the Vente Venezuela party was left without significant opponents
With the withdrawal of Henrique Capriles – previously defeated by Chávez and Maduro, and also disqualified -, the leader of the Vente Venezuela party is left without major opponents and leads the other ten candidates by more than 50 points , according to polls.
A veteran of the political arena, former representative Machado has been part of the most reactionary current of opposition. A defender of extreme neoliberalism, he longs for a Venezuela with an almost nonexistent State and surrenders to free market designs. The values opposed to a Chavismo subscribed, more than socialism, to a client and bureaucratic capitalism of the state.
If Machado becomes a presidential candidate, Maduro will find it difficult to maintain his disqualification without the Barbados agreement remaining a dead letter. However, for now, the Government remains strong.
Jorge Rodríguez, head of the ruling party’s negotiating delegation, was blunt when asked about it: “If you receive an administrative disqualification, you cannot be a candidate.” For the opposition Unitary Platform, however, the agreement includes a “route” for those disqualified to regain their rights.
Relations with the US and the definitive suspension of sanctions depend on Venezuela’s political opening
Chavismo faces a dilemma. Relations with the United States and the definitive suspension of sanctions depend on Venezuela’s political opening. If the Unitary Platform, which brings together different sectors of the opposition, insists on presenting Machado in the elections—if, as expected, he wins the primaries—and Maduro vetoes his candidacy, the dialogue will explode.
Faced with a final return to the political blockade, it is likely that Washington will continue economic sanctions against Caracas. The license issued this week, once again allowing transactions in the oil and gas sector, has a term of six months. And this will change “only if Venezuela fulfills its commitments under the electoral roadmap, as well as other commitments regarding those unjustly detained,” maintains the White House.
The opposition swings
Since Hugo Chávez came to power in February 1999, the opposition has conspired to remove him from the Miraflores palace, even by kicking him. Without electoral options, armed means were chosen (the surprising and failed coup d’état in April 2002) and street unrest. But they did not overthrow him.
Chávez’s charisma and his 21st century socialism have attracted a growing percentage of the population trapped in poverty. The internal division of the opposition did not take long to emerge between those in favor of constant political involution and those who defended the electoral agenda.
Almost a quarter of a century after the Bolivarian revolution, the opposition seems to have agreed to follow the institutional path.
Almost a quarter of a century after the Bolivarian revolution, the opposition seems to believe that only institutional means can change the government. After the defeat of the Guaidó era, the Unitary Platform opted for dialogue.
As the highest authority of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó was sworn in in January 2019 as the interim president of Venezuela, an imaginary title that, surprisingly, opened the doors of the Western chancellery to him. Thanks to the support of the United States and the European Union, the interim government controls the public resources of the State of Venezuela abroad.
That confrontational strategy dissolved in December 2022, when opposition lawmakers decided to end the shadow cabinet, fed up with the whims of Guaidó and Leopoldo López, his political boss in the Voluntad Popular party.
Now, López (sentenced to nine years in prison for inciting violence), took refuge in Madrid, and Guaidó licks his political wounds under the Miami sun, trying to forget the voices that, from his own movement, criticizing corruption. .
Every failure of opposition politics has been a breath of fresh air for Maduro. Before his death, in March 2013, Chávez appointed him as his political successor. In the absence of the magnetism of the commander, Maduro (his most loyal squire) has navigated the country’s social chaos with pragmatism, political acumen and a strong hand against dissent.
Maduro will survive his big trial by fire in the 2024 presidential elections
After ten years in the Miraflores palace, the Bolivarian president was overwhelmed by political disintegration and a chronic economic crisis. He has won two elections. In 2013, he got fewer votes than Capriles. This was the time when the opposition presented itself with a voice, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).
That coalition was able to defeat Chavismo two years ago, in the legislative elections of 2015. But it does not want to participate in the 2018 presidential election, where Maduro has no serious opponent to face.
The ruling party vindicated itself at the end of 2021, with its overwhelming victory in the regional elections. But that hegemony at the local level can be misleading. Facing a predicted united opposition, Maduro will experience his big test in the 2024 presidential elections.
At the beginning of the century, in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas a catchy slogan was chanted: “Chávez, 2000 Always!” Those were the times when Fidel Castro’s successor, who never stopped thinking about immortality, trusted so much in the love of his people that he saw himself re-elected forever. But Maduro is not Chávez. Even the current political context is not comparable to the first decade of the century.