Venezuela is supposed to hold elections sometime this year, though the government of Nicolas Maduro hasn’t announced when that will happen. In advance of any voting the country’s Supreme Court, which is packed with Maduro loyalists, has removed the leadership of two opposition parties and replaced them with Maduro allies.
The move against the party, First Justice, came days after Mr. Maduro’s regime took away control of Democratic Action, one of South America’s oldest and largest political parties, and named a new electoral board stacked with government allies. The board is supposed to oversee parliamentary elections that Mr. Maduro has said he wants to hold before the end of the year.
“What’s clear is that Maduro, with these actions, is doing away with whatever image we had remaining of Venezuela as a democracy, even as it was during the 20 years of Chavismo,” said Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based consultant and analyst, referring to the leftist movement that Mr. Maduro inherited from his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez.
By handpicking the leaders of opposition political parties and appointing a new electoral monitor, Mr. Maduro is redrawing the country’s electoral map ahead of congressional elections to give himself leverage and ensure victory.
Control of First Justice was given to José Brito, while longtime Democratic Action chair Henry Ramos Allup was replaced by José Bernabé Gutiérrez. Both Messrs. Brito and Gutiérrez had abandoned the opposition and joined the regime.
As mentioned, this follows the Supreme Court’s decision to create a new electoral board also packed with Maduro loyalists.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court, which is dominated by Maduro loyalists, named the council last week. Opposition leader Juan Guaido called the electoral body “false” and said the opposition would not recognize it.
Venezuela’s constitution grants the power to appoint electoral council members to the National Assembly, which Guaido leads, but the Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had failed to do so.
It is not hard to discern what is going on here. Despite no longer being the person recognized as president by dozens of countries around the world, Maduro controls the executive branch, the media and the Supreme Court. The only opposition he faces comes from the National Assembly. Their terms are set to expire by the end of 2020 so Maduro is planning to run a fraudulent election in which his handpicked allies and the newly stocked electoral board will proclaim that his United Socialist Party of Venezuela has won a resounding victory. In fact, Maduro has already predicted the outcome in advance of any voting.
The National Assembly is the only branch of government Maduro doesn’t control. That will change with the next election, he said.
“People of Venezuela, the hour is drawing near, the day is drawing near, the moment is drawing near,” Maduro said. “With the popular vote we are going to remove them from the National Assembly. We are going to take them out.”
Finally, though this isn’t directly related to the electoral situation, there’s an update on the “Citgo 6” a group of U.S. oil executives detained in Venezuela since 2017 when they were arrested and denounced as traitors by President Maduro. As I wrote back in February, the Citgo 6 were rounded by Venezuelan intelligence officers a few hours after Juan Guaido met with President Trump at the White House. They have remained imprisoned inside a notorious prison located at the headquarters of the intelligence service ever since. Yesterday CNN reported their families were pleading for their release as the coronavirus spreads inside the prison.
As the virus threatens Venezuela’s collapsing medical system and reports have emerged of cases within the prison facility where the men are held, family members say their loved ones are in “mortal danger.”…
On Friday, US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens revealed that two of the men “now have flu symptoms on top of other health issues.”
“It’s time for Mr. Maduro to let them go for humanitarian reasons, as he has with other at-risk prisoners. These men need to be back at home with their families in the United States – before their condition deteriorates further,” Carstens wrote on Twitter.
Carlos Añez told CNN that his stepfather, Jorge Toledo, was one of the men experiencing flu symptoms. He described him as “sick and in a lot of pain” and “still not allowed to get proper medical treatment.”
“They don’t have running water and just ration water brought to them every week and loaded into a water tank in their cell. Hygiene is a huge issue,” Añez said. “They’re infested with roaches and rats. My stepdad is covered from head to toe in scabies, he fell off his bunk almost two weeks ago and sustained an injury to his neck and back.”
Is Maduro going to let these American citizens go without treatment and possibly die? At the moment it looks that way.
Here’s an Al Jazeera report on the appointment of the new Maduro-friendly electoral board by the Maduro-friendly Supreme Court.