In mid-June, Thomas Shannon, a senior counselor to Secretary of State John Kerry, met with the leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. Cabello is the second most powerful man in the Venezuelan regime and is also being prosecuted in the U.S. for leading a drug cartel that has reportedly shipped tons of cocaine into the United States

According to Venezuela ‘s official version, the meeting was part of a “normalization” process between the two countries.

Whereas, it is not clear what the two men discussed, it is reasonable to assume that the Venezuelan government’s decision to hold parliamentary elections on December 6, despite initial hesitations and objections, was the result of this meeting. From Cabello’s perspective the meeting provided good propaganda showing him as a statesman not a drug kingpin. In terms of any normalization between the two countries, the State Department’s conditions were; the setting of a date for parliamentary elections; allowing outside election monitors and freeing all political prisoners including the leader of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez. Therefore, the question remains whether or not the Administration has accomplished its aims.

Although Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro agreed to hold parliamentary elections, there has been no commitment- as far as we know- to release opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from prison or for that matter none of the 70 political prisoners currently held by the Venezuelan government without trial and without proven charges.

Secondly, parliamentary elections will be held at a time when Maduro’s approval rating, according to the latest public opinion surveys, is only at 25%. Thirdly, the Venezuelan people are suffering from a shortage of basic goods, high crime rates, staggering inflation, repression and a general sense of insecurity. Given these conditions, it makes sense for the authoritarian Venezuelan government to assume that if free and honest elections were held, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) would likely face defeat.

Those of us who have followed the Bolivarian government’s behavior for more than one and a half decades have reached the clear conclusion that the PSUV leadership, past and present, has always viewed its rule as a revolution that is here to stay. Thus, Chavez, then, and Maduro now have aspired to perpetuate their power. Therefore, it is almost certain that the Maduro government will resort to fraud.   Indeed, the head of the Venezuelan Electoral Council (CNE) already declared that only the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) would be allowed to observe the elections.

UNASUR is an organization founded by Chavez that has given coverage to everything Venezuela has done, particularly regarding human rights and democracy violations. UNASUR, like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) are two organizations created with the purpose of bypassing the OAS (including its democratic charter) and excluding the United States and Canada

In the past, fraud was never proven, although a lot signs of electoral fraud have been registered in Venezuela. Thus, the challenge for the U.S. is not just to take the promise of an election as an ultimate accomplishment. The U.S. must push for the creation of a legitimate international mechanism that can monitor the multiple elements that in the past have raised suspicion of fraud such as the number of voters, the registered names, the computer system and others. This will require an assertive position by this administration.

From the Venezuelan perspective, “normalization” with the United States would mean giving up their anti-Americanism which is part of the main thrust of the Bolivarian revolution’s identity. Being the leader of anti-U.S. policies has given the revolution prestige and regional status throughout Latin America, which is something the regime may not want to give up.

As for the United States, our best hope is to push for outside, independent election monitors if we expect the regime to be defeated by the ballot. “Normalization” with the Venezuelan government with its anti-democratic, repressive policies and criminal behavior holds no benefits for us.

Now, it is up to the Congress to step in and press the president to take an aggressive position in this direction in the same way that Congress forced the Administration to impose crippling sanctions on Iran and even sanctions against Venezuelan violators of human rights. Congress acting in a bi-partisan way could obtain the consensus and the initiative needed to conduct an assertive hemispheric policy. As Congressman Elliot Engel, a veteran member of the House Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere recently pointed out “ It is in this hemisphere where we live and we cannot neglect it despite the existence of more pressing issues in other parts of the world”

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