An unknown militant group has claimed responsibility for a blaze which destroyed 99 percent of Venezuela’s electoral machines on Saturday. In a video message published on Twitter on Sunday, seven masked men calling themselves the Venezuelan Patriotic Front stated that the attack formed part of “Operation Sodom,” a reference to the biblical tale of the city destroyed by “divine judgement” on the Jordan River. The group goes on to justify the arson by alleging that electoral authorities have “violated the people’s rights through fraudulent elections.” In the same message, it also claimed responsibility for a fire last month at a state-run CANTV telecommunications center used in elections in Valencia, Carabobo State. While the origins and connections of the group remain unclear, its video message pledged further actions against government supporters and leaders, which it defined as being “military targets,” as well as issuing warnings about “what may occur” at the upcoming opposition march on Tuesday. Speaking Monday, National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello condemned the fire as a “terrorist attack.” Opposition leaders are yet to comment.
Venezuela’s electoral system was damaged but not destroyed after a fire broke out in a warehouse used to store voting equipment, the National Electoral Council said Sunday. A 6,000-square-meter (65,000 square feet) warehouse in Caracas caught fire on Saturday. In just half an hour, the fire devoured thousands of pieces of electric equipment. These included 44,408 voting machines, 582 civil registry computers and more than 49,000 biometric identification devices used in the elections, according to the electoral council (CNE) president Tibisay Lucena. “The Venezuelan electoral system is far from being destroyed,” Lucena said, adding the electoral procedure is a multi-step process, only two of which have been damaged. “This act, which we are waiting to hear if it was criminal, affected only two of the processes: the inventory process and the machine production process,” she told reporters.
European countries urged restraint in Venezuela on Tuesday and called for new elections as a way to settle the political crisis in the South American country, but there wasn’t a unified voice immediately on whether to support or condemn the opposition’s move to oust President Nicolás Maduro. In a statement released late in the day, the European Union said it rejected any form of violence and would continue to push for “free and fair elections.” The president of the bloc’s Parliament, Antonio Tajani, came out as the strongest European voice in support of the opposition. In a tweet in Spanish, Tajani called the events “a historic moment for the return to democracy and freedom in Venezuela,” and described the release of activist Leopoldo López from house arrest as “great news.” “Let’s go Venezuela free!” wrote Tajani, a prominent conservative leader. All but four EU members endorsed the initial, Europe-wide call in February to back opposition leader Juan Guaidó when he appointed himself interim president. The four who did not join the other EU members were Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Slovakia.
Venezuela’s opposition-dominated congress on Tuesday said it will hold new elections as soon as possible within a year — once embattled President Nicolas Maduro is ousted from power. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s socialist party boss, Diosdado Cabello, threatened to hold early legislative elections that could gut the congress, which is the only branch of government controlled by the opposition. He accused the opposition of taking orders from the United States. “We won’t skip a beat,” Cabello said. “We have no doubt that the imperialism governs the Venezuelan right wing.” The struggle for power in Venezuela resurged this year when congress leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president, saying Maduro’s re-election in May was fraudulent.
Britain, along with Spain, France and Sweden and Denmark on Monday recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the South American country’s interim president. The European countries want Venezuela to hold a presidential election as soon as possible to end its political and humanitarian crises. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt posted on Twitter: “Nicolas Maduro has not called Presidential elections within 8 day limit we have set. So UK alongside European allies now recognizes @jguaido as interim constitutional president until credible elections can be held. Let’s hope this take us closer to ending humanitarian crisis.”
Venezuela: Venezuela set for another round of protests as Maduro rules out fresh elections | Telegraph
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said he was prepared to hold negotiations with the US-backed opposition but ruled out early presidential elections as Caracas braced itself for fresh street protests. “I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we could talk for the good of Venezuela,” Maduro told the Russian state news agency in an interview in Caracas. Last week the oil-rich but economically devastated Latin American country was plunged into uncertainty when the US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself “acting president”. The United States, a dozen Latin American countries and Canada have recognised Guaido as interim president, while China and Russia – Venezuela’s two main creditors – have urged non-interference.
President Nicolás Maduro faced increasing international pressure on Saturday, as European governments threatened to recognize his chief opponent as Venezuela’s leader unless a plan for new elections is announced within eight days. The statements from Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Britain came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed the United Nations to throw its support behind Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, who declared himself president on Wednesday. The United States and most Latin American countries have recognized Guaidó as interim leader in recent days, after Maduro was sworn in for a second term following elections riddled with fraud. But Russia, China and others have defended Maduro. Guaidó’s actions have represented the most significant challenge yet to Maduro, whose socialist policies have contributed to an economic meltdown in this oil-rich country.
Venezuelans went to polling stations Sunday to elect municipal council members, but analysts predicted record low turnout, citing mistrust in the process, the banning of opposition parties and widespread exhaustion amid the ongoing socioeconomic crisis. The elections come one month before President Nicolas Maduro begins his second six-year term after winning an election in May termed illegitimate by political opponents, the European Union, the United States and most of Latin America. Voting was suspended in the southern city of Gran Sabana, where an indigenous man died Saturday in an apparent military operation against illegal mining, the National Electoral Council (NEC) reported.
European leaders on Monday called for a new presidential election in Venezuela, saying they will “swiftly” levy a new round of sanctions targeting those close to President Nicolas Maduro. Despite widespread calls for a return to democratic rule, Venezuela’s election showed the country was further straying from constitutional order, the European Union’s foreign ministers said. The threat from the EU’s foreign ministers drew backlash from Maduro, who said that and any more sanctions will only further hurt Venezuelans. “This is the European Union that arrogantly wants to put its nose in Venezuela’s business,” Maduro said. “Enough of this old colonialism.”
The abysmal turnout at Venezuela’s presidential election on Sunday, with absenteeism at its highest rate in the country’s history (46%), has further weakened the government of President Nicolás Maduro. The main opposition force, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), called for a boycott of the vote for lacking proper guarantees, leaving Maduro to take an overwhelming victory – one that was only recognized as legitimate by the government. Maduro’s rivals Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci demanded a repeat election, although the former later conceded defeat. The results mean that Maduro will continue as president of Venezuela until 2025. According to officials, Maduro won with 6.2 million votes, outperforming his closest rival Falcón, who received 1.9 million votes. It was a victory in a campaign marked by indifference and an election day during which more than half the electorate (a total of nine million) decided not to vote, believing the opposition’s argument that the polls, announced at the beginning of the year, would be fixed in favor of the authorities.
Venezuela: Lima Group condemns Maduro’s reelection; recalls ambassadors from Venezuela | The Santiago Times
The fourteen members of the Lima Group have declared they do not recognize the re-election of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in a Sunday vote marred by international accusations that it was rigged. All 14 members of the group issued a statement on Monday condemning the election and saying they will call back their ambassadors in Caracas for consultations on what to do next, as well as summon the Venezuelan ambassadors in each country to express their concerns. The statement also said the countries will reduce their diplomatic presences in Venezuela as a result. There is no indication in the statement that the Lima Group countries will permanently pull their ambassadors from Caracas.
Critics at home and abroad on Monday denounced the re-election of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro as a farce cementing autocracy, while the U.S. government imposed new sanctions on the crisis-stricken oil-producing country. Maduro, the 55-year-old successor to late leftist leader Hugo Chavez, hailed his win in Sunday’s election as a victory against “imperialism.” But his main challengers alleged irregularities and refused to recognize the result. In response to the vote, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order restricting Venezuela’s ability to liquidate state assets and debt in the United States, the latest in a series of sanctions that seeks to choke off financing for the already cash-strapped government.
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has shrugged off international condemnation and allegations of vote buying and electoral fraud to claim a second six-year term at the helm of his crisis-stricken nation. Addressing crowds of supporters outside the presidential palace in Caracas on Sunday night, Maduro hailed the “impeccable electoral process” that had returned him to power with 67.7% of the vote. … Venezuela’s election board put turnout at just 46.1%, way down from the 80% registered at the last presidential vote in 2013, due to a boycott by Venezuela’s mainstream opposition.
When Ariles López takes a break from her fruit stall and begins to describe her life in Venezuela, there is a moment when she chokes up and begins to cry. That will not come as a surprise, when you hear her story. López, who’s 47, is among those Venezuelans who say they will vote in Sunday’s election, despite a widely held view that it’s a fraudulent exercise calculated to keep President Nicolás Maduro in power. She is desperate for change, after a year of personal hardship that underscores the scale of the multilayered catastrophe that is engulfing Venezuela: hyperinflation, widespread hunger, deaths from preventable diseases, and a wave of deadly crime.
Venezuela: Maduro’s Top Rival Has a Problem: Venezuela’s Opposition Won’t Vote | Wall Street Journal
Henri Falcón, the top Venezuelan opposition candidate in Sunday’s presidential election, faces two obstacles to winning: his friends and his foes. He must not only outmaneuver a ruling administration using state machinery to dominate the vote. Mr. Falcón must also overcome the reluctance of a coalition of like-minded opposition parties that is boycotting a contest they say is rigged. Mr. Falcón’s message, in contrast is: You can’t win if you don’t participate. “I decided to show my face to the country,” Mr. Falcón told followers last week from a stage in this hard-bitten industrial town southwest of Caracas. “I don’t care about the criticism…It’s the moment of truth now, a time for common sense, for being rational.”
The Lima Group of largely Latin American nations on Monday urged the Venezuelan government to suspend the presidential election scheduled for May 20, calling the process “illegitimate and lacking in credibility.” In a joint statement, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Lucia, Spain and the United States condemned Venezuela’s government and vowed to consider steps if the vote went ahead. The countries, not all of which belong formally to the group established last year in Lima to address the crisis in Venezuela, said they had analysed possible scenarios and identified a series of “actions” they could take. They did not provide details on what those might be.
Military officers are joining the exodus of Venezuelans to Colombia and Brazil, fleeing barracks and forcing President Nicolas Maduro’s government to call upon retirees and militia to fill the void. High desertion rates at bases in Caracas and the countryside are complicating security plans for the presidential election in 13 days, which by law require military custody of electoral materials and machinery at voting centers. “The number is unknown because it used to be published in the Official Gazette. Now, it is not,” said Rocio San Miguel, director of Control Ciudadano, a military watchdog group in Caracas. She said soldiers are fleeing for the same reason citizens are: “Wages are low, the quality of food and clothing isn’t good.”
Venezuela’s opposition on Thursday called for a boycott of the May 20 presidential election, urging those running against President Nicolas Maduro to withdraw their candidacy. “Don’t take part and leave the streets empty,” said a statement issued by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the main opposition coalition, which said it would be a clear sign “rejecting Maduro’s regime and electoral fraud.” There are only two challengers running against Maduro, both former supporters of the late Hugo Chavez supporters who have distanced themselves from the current government.
Venezuela: Maduro set to abolish voting rights and other freedoms, Colombian president says | Miami Herald
It’s hard to know what will happen next in Venezuela, but what Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told me in an interview this week should raise alarm bells throughout the hemisphere. Santos said during a visit to Miami that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s hand-picked Constituent Assembly is drafting a new constitution that would be made public after Venezuela’s May 20 presidential elections. The new charter would officially turn Venezuela into a Cuban-style dictatorship, he said. Maduro, already a de facto dictator, is running for re-election for another five-year term. He has prohibited top opposition leaders from running against him, banned international election observers and refused to allow an independent electoral tribunal. The United States, European Union and all major Latin American countries — including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia — have said that they won’t accept the results of Maduro’s sham election.
A coalition of Venezuelan opposition groups organized rallies across the country on Saturday to protest May 20 presidential elections it considers fraudulent and to demand “free and transparent” elections at a future date. “The assemblies are a show of resistance against a regime that wants to deny us our rights,” parliamentarian Delsa Solorzano told AFP. “We have to salvage the right to vote freely.” The protests were organized by the Broad Front for a Free Venezuela, which includes the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), dissidents of the leftist Chavist movement, and sectors of civil society.
Venezuela’s government said Thursday that it was postponing the presidential election until May 20, allowing an extra month before the country’s snap vote but doing little to quell critics calling for a boycott. In addition to announcing the new date, the government said that it would allow international observers to participate and that members of regional councils would be chosen by Venezuelans going to the polls in May as well. President Nicolás Maduro is running for another six-year term after more than a year of crackdowns against opponents that have included jailing popular political rivals and using force to put down street protests.
In a setback to President Nicolas Maduro, the CNE announced it would not be able to organize all the elections on one day. The OAS and the US have criticized the vote, set to take place in April. The National Electoral Council (CNE) of Venezuela has ruled out the possibility of carrying out legislative, state and municipal elections, in conjunction with the scheduled presidential elections on April 22, as President Maduro had proposed. Tibisay Lucena, the president of the CNE, announced the decision on Friday, saying that the electoral authority would not be capable of preparing such a range of elections so soon. “We are now not prepared to make a presidential election coincide with other elections that are technically more complex,” Lucena said.
President Nicolas Maduro is doubling-down on plans to concentrate power by calling Wednesday for early congressional elections to coincide with a presidential vote in April that opponents hours earlier said they would boycott unless steps are taken to ease fears it’s rigged. Pushing ahead a vote for the democratically elected National Assembly could spell a shake-up in the last branch of government still out of Maduro’s control. The opposition’s move edging to an outright boycott means Maduro is unlikely to face any major challenge in the April 22 race despite widespread anger over his handling of an economy marred by soaring inflation and shortages of food and life-saving medicine.
A top Venezuelan opposition party announced on Friday it would boycott April’s presidential vote, showing divides within the opposition coalition. Popular Will, the third largest opposition party, said it would “not nominate or endorse any candidate” in the April 22 presidential election that it says amounts to a “fraud,” DW reported. “Those who register in these conditions are doing the dictatorship a favor,” said the party led by Leopoldo Lopez. He is under house arrest on allegations of inciting violence in 2014 protests. Venezuela’s opposition is huddled around the Democratic Unity Round Table (MUD), an alliance of some 20 parties opposed to Socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela’s National Electoral Council highlights 15 audits have been planned to guarantee the process’ transparency. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has confirmed the date for the next presidential elections will be April 22 and provided details on the dates for voter and candidate registration. The announcement was made by Sandra Oblitas, CNE’s Vice-president, who added that 531 locations would be open throughout the country for voters to register and to change where they vote. Venezuelans will have until Feb. 20 to register to vote in the presidential elections.
The Venezuelan government’s decision to plow ahead with early presidential elections over the objections of the opposition risks spurring more international sanctions and exacerbating an economic and social crisis driving increasing numbers of Venezuelans into exile, analysts said Thursday. Opposition politicians were meeting the day after officials announced the April 22 vote, deciding whether to challenge socialist President Nicolas Maduro in an election that several foreign nations have already vowed not to recognize — or to boycott it. They accuse Maduro’s government of rigging recent elections and making a fair race impossible, in part by barring the most popular opposition parties and candidates. International condemnation of the snap election has begun pouring in.
Venezuela: Few Challengers in Sight, Venezuela Sets April 22 for Presidential Vote | The New York Times
The Venezuelan government said Wednesday that it would hold a snap presidential election on April 22, putting the unpopular administration of President Nicolás Maduro in the hands of voters at a time when most top challengers have been barred from running. The announcement was made by Tibisay Lucena, the president of the country’s electoral commission, who said the date had been chosen after negotiations with opposition politicians had failed to reach an agreement about how to conduct the election fairly. The election will allow Venezuelans to “freely decide their fate,” she said. “We are committed, as always, to our constitutional task, to guarantee the right conditions so that democratic differences are settled through an efficient, transparent and balanced vote.”
Venezuela’s government and opposition pushed on Tuesday with talks aimed at soothing their country’s political crisis, but President Nicolas Maduro’s bid for virtually unopposed re-election in early polls weighed heavily on the negotiations. The government’s chief negotiator, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez, said “electoral guarantees” for the vote would be on the table — as was the issue of US economic sanctions that have worsened Caracas’ precarious finances. “We are working on all the issues and we have narrowed positions on all the issues,” he said as he arrived at the Dominican Republic’s foreign ministry, the venue for the talks overseen by several Latin American foreign ministers. The latest round of negotiations opened on December 1.
Venezuela is under mounting international pressure over the government’s decision to push up presidential elections under conditions that opponents say overwhelmingly favor President Nicolas Maduro, who is so far the only candidate. Spain, a major trading partner with deep roots in Venezuela, became the latest government to break diplomatic ties on Friday, while French President Emmanuel Macron said that he’s open to additional European Union sanctions against what he called an “unacceptable authoritarian shift” by Maduro. The pro-government national constituent assembly last week called for an election to be held by the end of April but set no date.
Venezuela’s highest court ruled Thursday the country’s largest opposition coalition won’t be able to run a joint ticket in upcoming presidential election. The Supreme Court of Venezuela (TSJ) found the decade-old opposition coalition, the MUD, violated the norm of avoiding “double affiliation” – the act of holding membership of two parties at the same time. “This grouping character openly contradicts the prohibition of double membership,” the TSJ said. The court’s decision put a question mark over the future of the MUD, which has sought to unify Venezuela’s disparate opposition parties since 2008.