In Contrast to Nicaragua, Venezuela Brings a Pinch of Hope

Presidential elections are set to take place in Venezuela on July 28th.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – Although Nicaragua and Venezuela have often been compared due to the authoritarian model that dominates in both, there are some very different ingredients making up their political contexts, especially with regard to the electoral process that Venezuelans are currently experiencing.

Ten competing candidates will appear on the Venezuelan ballot on July 28, all hoping to obtain or maintain the presidential seat. The two most relevant candidates, however, are Nicolas Maduro, who is seeking a third six-year term in a country sunk in a longstanding crisis; and Edmundo Gonzalez who represents the majority opposition.

Nicaraguan political expert Felix Maradiaga recognizes that it’s very hard to feel optimistic about the upcoming elections in Venezuela. The regime there will doubtless be replicating some of the diverse tactics of electoral fraud that the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship implemented in Nicaragua to extend the power they’ve held since 2007.

However, he noted that among those who specialize in the subject there’s consensus that the regime in Nicaragua has closed itself off, in terms of electoral matters and civic spaces, substantially more than Venezuela.

Maradiaga highlighted the premise that: “Not all dictatorships are the same, since some are more closed than others.” In the case of Nicaragua, different international organizations have coincided in pointing out the brutality of the regime headed by Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo.

One of the most notorious differences between the two countries’ electoral processes has been that in the case of Venezuela, the opposition has managed to hold large political rallies. One such gathering took place on July 4 – the official opening day of the electoral campaign – when the main opposition candidate, hand-in-hand with leader Maria Corina Machado [who was barred from running], brought together thousands of followers.

In Nicaragua, the last presidential election in 2021 was marked by the jailing of the principal contenders who sought to challenge Daniel Ortega. In other words, Ortega assured himself that there would be no obstacles whatsoever in his path towards being elected for a fourth consecutive term.

Edmundo Gonzalez, candidate for Venezuela’s largest opposition bloc, has promised that if he wins the July 28 presidential elections, he will modernize the Venezuelan Armed Forces so as to be prepared for the “new strategic military scenarios that can be glimpsed nationally and globally.” Photo: Ronald Peña R. / EFE

In a report entitled “Freedom in the World,” the Washington-based NGO Freedom House, noted: Nicaragua is the country on the planet where the most civic spaces have been closed in the last ten years.”

“That harsh Nicaraguan experience leaves us with the lesson that dictatorships can make the decision to cling to power no matter what the cost, by ‘doing whatever has to be done,’ as Tomas Borge [Nicaraguan Minister of the Interior in the 80s] once said,” Maradiaga declared.

Venezuela’s opposition remains inside the country

Nevertheless, Felix Maradiaga pointed out that in the case of Venezuela there are some very specific factors that leave open the possibility – however distant – of a change.

“In Venezuela, there are ongoing negotiations with the international community, and a series of preliminary accords that were reached in Barbados [in October 2023],” he recalled.

He added: “it’s a country with a desperate need to find a market for its oil. Among other factors, we should also note that the chief opposition leader Maria Corina Machado is still physically present inside the country.”

Although somewhat fractured, the process of negotiations in Venezuela still continues. On July 3, the government reassumed talks with the United States following several months in limbo and with the imminent presidential elections as a backdrop – elections that will be followed closely in Washington.

Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado (r) greets the public during a campaign rally for Edmundo Gonzalez, the presidential candidate for the main opposition, in Caracas. Photo: Ronald Peña / EFE

President Nicolas Maduro announced that the US and Venezuela held an initial online meeting on July 3.  In this meeting, according to reports from Caracas, the two countries committed to “working together to build trust and improve relations,” and to “maintain respectful and constructive conversations.”

The principal opposition coalition in Venezuela, the Plataforma Unitaria Democrática [Democratic Unitary Platform], believes that the reinitiation of dialogue between the US and Venezuela is a positive step, since the differences “must be resolved by peaceful means.”

“Uncertainty” reigns

In the view of another political analyst, who spoke with La Prensa under condition of anonymity, it can all be summed up in one word: uncertainty.

“Views are divided. On one side are the skeptics and nay-sayers, who don’t believe that Maduro is willing to allow clean elections, much less turn over power in case of an opposition victory. On the other side are the optimists, who are betting on a change, even though if Maduro loses he may hold on to important quotas of power.”

On the other hand, the analyst pointed out that there’s been unanimous recognition, expressed publicly and privately by Christians and pagans alike, that the regime is worn out, and change is an imperative. However, “if that reality is denied, the deterioration could stretch out longer and delay a negotiated, democratic way out, although not for long.”

How might a change in Venezuela impact Nicaragua?

Felix Maradiaga believes that the influence Nicolas Maduro’s regime wields over Nicaragua is currently considerably less that what it was during the time of deceased president Hugo Chavez.

“Venezuela at that time ended up transferring over 500 million dollars annually to the Ortega regime, in a sustained yearly manner that lasted over a decade. Without that gigantic sum of money, Ortega wouldn’t have been able to consolidate his political control in Nicaragua. Today, Venezuela no longer has that capacity and that diminishes its influence over Nicaragua. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of interdependence between the dictatorships, and that’s especially true in the case of the tyrannies in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua,” Maradiaga expressed.

Blow would “raise morale”

Even so, Maradiaga believes a political change in Venezuela would “be an immense morale-booster” for the cause of liberty in Nicaragua, and would leave Ortega further weakened and isolated.”

The other political analyst agreed that the effect on the Nicaraguan situation of a political change in Venezuela would be fundamentally in the arena of politics and morale.

“The departure of Maduro from power would be viewed as the final defeat of the Bolivarian project promoted by Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.  Nicaragua’s economic dependence on Venezuela is minimal, so that there wouldn’t be any consequences on that level,” the source declared.

With information from the EFE News Agency

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.

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