Venezuela's regional elections on November 21st will be neither free nor fair. That much is obvious, and how could it be otherwise. The Maduro regime controls the elections commission, the media, the police and army, and everything else relevant to the elections, and Venezuela lives under a brutal dictatorship. The democratic opposition has decided to participate because it views the elections as an opportunity to rally supporters, to take advantage the chance to be out in the streets even in a very constrained manner, and to strengthen the "muscle memory" of voting.
Because these are phony elections, no democratic country should send an official observer mission whose presence would legitimize them. It was thus disappointing when the EU decided to send an observer mission.
But now we know the full story, courtesy of the Financial Times:
The EU’s top diplomat ignored the advice of his own staff in deciding to send observers to elections in Venezuela next month, over-ruling warnings that the mission will legitimise president Nicolás Maduro’s regime and tarnish the reputation of the bloc’s election observation missions.
The FT article continues:
“The deployment of an EU (mission) is likely to have an adverse impact on the reputation and credibility of EU (observers) and indirectly legitimise Venezuela’s electoral process,” the report reads. Citing numerous human rights violations and restrictions on freedoms, it concluded that “the minimum conditions for election observation are not met at this time”.
This is disturbing--all the more so because it fits in a pattern of policy actions regarding Venezuela by the High Representative, Josep Borrell Fontelles. In the summer of 2020, he acted alone, without the support of EU members nations, to back Venezuelan politician Henrique Capriles as he broke from the main body of the democratic opposition and negotiated on his own with the regime.
It is difficult to understand Mr. Borrell's approach, but many Venezuelans attribute it to Spanish domestic politics. In Spain, policy toward Venezuela is a domestic political issue--with the right strongly opposing the Maduro regime, and the far-left Podemos Party, a part of the governing coalition, taking a very soft line on Maduro's crimes. The question many ask is whether Borrell is truly acting on his own, or is taking the approach either of the Spanish Socialist Party, of which he has been a member and which he served as foreign minister, and of Podemos. In either case, his positions violate the professional advice he is being given by the EU diplomatic corps (not a particularly right-wing group, we can all agree!) and are all too often being taken without regard to the views of member states. In the summer of 2020 I was serving as the State Department's Special Representative for Venezuela, and asked several EU member state governments why they supported Borrell's game with Capriles. Every one I asked said they had neither been informed nor consulted in advance.
There isn't much the United States can do about all this, but EU member states can. They have all seconded diplomats to form the EU foreign service; did they do so only to watch the High Representative ignore their reporting and their strong advice? Should EU policy on Venezuela not represent the views of member states and of the diplomats with the greatest knowledge of Venezuela?