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Briefly open to a fair-looking election, Venezuela reverses course again

A group of people sitting behind a table.
Ariana Cubillos
National Electoral Council President Elvis Amoroso, center, makes a statement at the National Electoral Council (CNE) headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, May 29, 2024.

Venezuelan officials rescinded an invitation to the European Union to observe the upcoming July 28 presidential elections, another stark sign that President Nicolás Maduro is unlikely to cede power despite allowing an opposition candidate to run against him.

After months of intensified repression by the Maduro government — which banned legitimate challengers from the ballot, jailed political opponents and cracked down on civil society — the country’s electoral authority surprised many in April when it allowed the former diplomat Edmundo González to register as an opposition candidate.

The Venezuelan government has been choked by sanctions from the United States and the EU on the country’s vital oil industry, and some experts say Maduro allowed González to run only because it might help him sway Washington and its allies to ease up on the penalties.

The president of the council, Elvis Amoroso, said in a televised broadcast that he was rescinding the invitation until the EU lifted “the unilateral and genocidal coercive sanctions imposed on our people.”

“It would be immoral to allow their participation knowing their neocolonialist and interventionist practices against Venezuela,” he added.

The EU said in a statement that it “deeply regrets the unilateral decision” of the electoral council and called on the government to reconsider its decision.

Venezuela’s economy imploded nearly a decade ago, prompting one of the world’s largest displacements in Latin American history: More than seven million Venezuelans have abandoned the country, contributing to a northward migrant surge that has become a dominant theme in the U.S. presidential campaign.

Three polls conducted inside the country showed that a majority of respondents planned to vote for González. But there is widespread doubt that Maduro would allow such results to become public — or accept them if they do.

This year, the Maduro government has already detained and jailed 10 opposition members. Five others have warrants out for their arrest and are hiding in the Argentine Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital.

A proposal in the legislature would also allow the government to suspend the opposition’s campaign at any moment. Many Venezuelans living abroad have been unable to register to vote because of expensive and cumbersome requirements.

Maduro, 61, is the political heir to Hugo Chávez’s socialist movement in Venezuela, and has consolidated power since first winning office in 2013. He functionally controls the legislature, the military, the police, the justice system, the national election council, the country’s budget and much of the media, as well as violent paramilitary gangs called colectivos.

He and his inner circle have also been accused of systematic human rights abuses amounting to crimes against humanity — including killings, torture and sexual violence.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2024 The New York Times

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