Barbados agreement and U.S. meddling in Venezuela

The confirmation by the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) on January 16 of the disqualification of the candidacy of the media leader of the opposition in Venezuela, María Corina Machado, for the 2024 presidential elections, has been presented by the U.S. government -and the press that echoes it- as the cause of a strong shake-up in the agreement reached at the dialogue table between the government of Nicolás Maduro and part of the opposition, grouped in the Unitary Platform, last October 18 in Barbados. The ruling of the TSJ does not violate the Barbados Agreement at all.

Rather, what led President Nicolás Maduro to say that the Agreement was “mortally wounded” are the conspiracies hatched in the last months aimed at blinding his life, that of Defense Minister General Padrino López, and that of the Governor of the State of Táchira, Freddy Bernal, in which the DEA and the CIA were involved, and which led to the discharge of 33 military personnel last week. Likewise, civilians were arrested, several of them linked to Venezuelan ultra-right parties, who in some cases have confessed their participation in the conspiracy.

Added to this is the disclosure of a report by the U.S. news agency Associated Press, on February 1, which gives an account of undercover operations carried out by the DEA in Venezuela, initiated during the administration of Donald Trump, in order to build false cases for drug trafficking against leaders of the country, and to track high-ranking public officials, including President Nicolás Maduro.

Fortunately, in the midst of the tensions, at the suggestion of Norway, the government and the opposition grouped in the Unitary Platform -in which the Vente Venezuela (VV) party led by Machado does not participate- have agreed to form commissions to supervise the implementation of the Barbados Agreement and prevent it from succumbing in an election year.

The Barbados Agreement

Last October 17, an agreement was reached in the city of Bridgetown -with the mediation of Norway and the participation of representatives of the Netherlands, Russia, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil- in which the terms for a transparent and competitive election were defined and commitments were established regarding the participation of the media and the updating of the electoral roll, among other issues.

On the day it was signed, the foreign ministers of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy issued a joint statement of support in which they stated that the Agreement represented a necessary step for the continuity of an inclusive dialogue process and the reinstatement of democracy in Venezuela. They would continue to call for the unconditional release of all those who are unjustly detained, the independence of the electoral process and judicial institutions, freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and respect for human and political rights.

Hours later, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken issued a new statement, this time individually, in which he announced that the six-month partial relief of economic sanctions, particularly those related to the gold, gas and oil industry, following the signing of the Barbados Agreement in October, could be extended if the Venezuelan government complied with the terms of the Agreement. He added that the United States understands that Venezuela will define a timetable and specific processes for the reintegration of all those who wish to participate in the presidential electoral contest, a message clearly aimed at enabling María Corina Machado, the candidate most supported by that country.

The problem is that the Secretary of State of the Northern country intends to impose actions that are not contemplated neither in the Barbados Agreement nor in the Venezuelan Constitution. Machado was disqualified last June from participating in public office for 15 years by the Comptroller General’s Office, for asset imbalances omitted in her sworn statements and for her participation in the “corruption scheme orchestrated by Juan Guaidó, which led to the blockade of Venezuela and the blatant plundering of the nation’s companies and wealth abroad”.

In the text of the Barbados Agreement there is no article that commits the Venezuelan government to enable Machado -or any other disqualified candidate- as presidential candidate. What is stated in Article 11 is, textually, that authorization will be promoted to all presidential candidates and political parties, provided that they comply with the requirements established to participate in the presidential election, consistent with the procedures established by Venezuelan law.

In fact, the president of the Parliament, Jorge Rodriguez, head of the Venezuelan government delegation in the talks of the Dialogue Table, denied that the agreement with the opposition would lift the political disqualifications. However, the possibility was opened for the Supreme Court of Justice to examine the cases of the disqualified candidates.

Five days after the signing of the Agreement, internal elections took place in the opposition parties grouped in the Unified Platform in which Machado won with more than 90% of the votes. The problem is that these took place outside the legal framework of the National Electoral Council (CNE). Since there were no minutes, it was not known how many Venezuelans participated. Independent media consider that 2 million out of 21 million voters went to vote. The elections were not validated by the National Electoral Council. The Vice Minister of Anti-Blockade Policies of Venezuela, William Castillo, had previously warned that those who called for the primary elections, “deceived their voters making them believe that with the results of this consultation they could force the qualification”.

María Corina Machado says that Maduro is afraid to compete with her in the elections and believes that “Chávez would have had you-know-what to face and measure himself against me”. It is true that the Presidential candidate has deep convictions and is a strong woman: in 2002 she participated in the coup against Chávez; in 2004 she was in charge of the collection of signatures to achieve a revoking referendum against him, which Chávez won with 59% of the votes, a process audited by the Carter Center, which qualified it as impeccable; in 2005 she met with President George W. Bush and requested support to end Chávez’s presidency; in 2005 she met with President George W. Bush and asked for support to end the coup. Bush and requested support to put an end to the Chávez government; and in 2014, being an elected Congresswoman, she appeared before an OAS Assembly in Panama, with the position of “alternate ambassador”, to demand that the opposition to the Venezuelan government be hardened. That time she was dismissed as deputy and earned her first disqualification from holding public office, for one year.

Machado promises to install a liberal economy and privatize public companies such as Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), among others. She declares herself an admirer and friend of Patricia Bullrich and Javier Milei, as well as of Jair Bolsonaro. She has close political ties with Álvaro Uribe and Iván Duque, and claims to have great friends in the Popular Party and Vox in Spain.

Disqualification by the Judiciary

Although there was no express commitment in the Agreement, the disqualified candidacies were appealed before the TSJ. On January 26, the latter enabled some of them, but ratified the ruling of disqualification to those of Machado, Henrique Capriles -who had previously withdrawn his candidacy in this election- and some former cabinet members of Juan Guaidó’s interim presidency. Immediately, Matthew Miller, State Department spokesman, pointed out in a statement that the Venezuelan TSJ’s decision to disqualify the winner of the democratic opposition primaries was incompatible with the commitment of Maduro’s representatives to hold a competitive presidential election in 2024.

Subsequently, the spokesman of the White House National Security Council, John Kirby, said that the sanctions on the state-owned gold mining company Minerven would be reactivated and gave the government until April for the TSJ to review again the ruling of disqualification of the candidacies so as not to lose the benefit of the partial withdrawal of sanctions that the United States had granted after the signing of the Agreement, to the gas and oil sectors.

Interference and covert operations

The demand of the U.S. government to enable the candidacy of Machado, who is barred from holding public office by rulings of the Comptroller General’s Office and the TSJ, is an act of interference in the internal affairs of a country. It also constitutes a disrespect to the provisions of the Barbados Agreement.

But this is not the most serious thing. President Maduro has denounced acts of conspiracy against several members of his government, including himself, as well as military targets. Within this framework, he has arrested about thirty people, several of them linked to Vente Venezuela, the party of María Corina Machado. According to the prosecutor of the Nation, these arrests have been made since May and respond to suspicions that have been confirmed this week.

In fact, two journalists of the American news agency Associated Press (AP), Joshua Woodman and Jim Mustian, published a report on February 1st, based on the obtaining of a 15-page secret memorandum, in which it is stated that the DEA sent undercover agents to Venezuela to act surreptitiously and build drug trafficking cases against the country’s leaders, including the President himself. The undercover activity was recognized by the U.S. government itself as a possible violation of international law, according to the report published by the AP agency.

Said report includes the accusations made by Maduro to the DEA and the CIA for their efforts to destabilize the country, where at the same time he said he believed that President Biden was not involved, and that the CIA and the DEA operate independently as imperialist criminal organizations.

According to the journalistic report, the memo was drafted “on the cusp of Republican President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign to remove the Venezuelan president” in 2018. It also notes that because the plan appeared to bypass Venezuelan and international law, it required the approval of what is known as the Sensitive Activities Review Committee, or SARC, a secret panel of senior State and Justice Department officials reserved for the most sensitive members of the DEA, cases involving difficult ethical, legal or foreign policy considerations.

The DEA and the U.S. Department of Justice, says the news report, have refused to answer questions raised by the media about this unilateral operation, which was carried out in violation of established norms of international law.

The opposition’s chances

The participation of the leader of Vente Venezuela in the presidential election seems impossible after the ruling of the TSE. It will then be said that there was fraud and probably several countries will not recognize the results of the next elections. The President of Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, has already announced it. And the chancelleries of Peru and France join the media chorus and demand Venezuela to comply with the Barbados Agreement, as if the Venezuelan government were not complying with it. As has been pointed out, in the text of the Agreement there is no commitment on the part of the Venezuelan government to contravene rulings issued by the Comptroller’s Office or the Judiciary against candidates. Although the world war scenario makes the Venezuelan government less vulnerable given the relevance of oil as a strategic resource, it will be the population, as always, the most harmed if the U.S. government re-imposes the partially lifted sanctions.

Given the circumstances, the opposition could nominate some other qualified candidate -there are more than a dozen competing- but it is difficult for them to form a common front, as it has happened in other elections to defeat Maduro. Milei would not be president of Argentina if the opposition to Peronism had not been united in the ballot. Like Mauricio Macri with Milei, María Corina could be the power behind the throne of some opposition candidate grouped in the Unitary Platform. It is true that Machado faces internal resistance since she has been critical of the traditional opposition and her party does not participate in the dialogue table. What happens is that Machado, is above all a media figure promoted by the United States and related media, a sort of second version of Guaidó, with which they seek to discredit and delegitimize the upcoming elections.

It is most likely that some opposition candidate will emerge in the primary elections whose date, as well as the date of the elections, is currently being debated. The primary elections in which Machado won, called five days after the Barbados Agreement, were not coordinated by the National Electoral Council and no voting records are available, therefore they were not validated. Therefore, it is essential to preserve the Barbados Agreement and for the United States to stop intervening in the internal affairs of the countries by advocating Machado’s candidacy. The U.S. government cannot demand that the authorities of any country remove or impose sentences on citizens. That is to say, it cannot demand the reversal of sentences issued by local institutions that have qualified her to participate for the reasons stated above. It is condemnable and unacceptable the interference of the United States imposing candidates, presidents, asphyxiating the population with sanctions, conditioning them to their political will, setting up espionage programs to high public figures, violating international law and promoting coups d’état. With these actions the only thing they achieve is to further discredit democracy and turn it into an empty shell.



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