On a few occassions I have heard the argument that there is a kind of apartheid in Venezuela via a system of governance that demonstrates institutionalized discrimination based on political affiliation. I have heard this argument come up mostly when people talk about the CLAP system, which delivers bags of subsidized food only to people who have a carnet de la patria [Fatherland Identification], a piece of I.D. that you can only get if you register as a supporter of the Maduro regime.
I’m not entirely comfortable calling the kind of discrimination that we see in Venezuela apartheid, just as I’m not comfortable calling people who do bad things Hitler. I think that both apartheid as it existed in South Africa and Hitler are such extreme examples in their own respect that equating anything to them is not always helpful. That is another topic for another discussion.
Having saving that, I think that what happened at the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) yesterday is worth spending a few moments to consider as another example of governance by discrimination. The CNE that we saw yesterday working in favour of the Maduro regime is not the same CNE that we saw last year working against the will of the Venezuelan people.
The Hyper-Efficient CNE
The CNE that we saw yesterday is hyper-efficient. It works at lightning speed to move electoral processes along at an impressive pace. It is happy to cooperate with requests and works diligently to carry them out.
On Monday May 1 Maduro made what is likely to be the most important announcement of his presidency: Venezuela would hold a “Communal Constituent Assembly” (CCA) to draft a new national constitution. The process would bring an end to the Fifth Republic era of Venezuelan history and to the Constitution of 1999, which was drafted by a constituent assembly under Chavez’s watchful eyes.
It is hard to overstate how monumental the Constituent Assembly process is. While details on the body were slow to emerge, it was clear on May 1 that creating the assembly would be a titanic task. The process would involve the election of hundreds of delegates from every municipality in the country. This would be the kind of election that Venezuelans only see in a generation, if that.
Twenty three days later, Maduro handed in the paperwork requesting the start of process to elect the members of the assembly. Barely six hours later on that same day, May 24, the head of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, announced that the paperwork was in order, and that Venezuelans would elect their constituent assembly representatives at the end of July.
The total elapsed time from the moment that Maduro announced the CCA to the time that the CNE approved the most important election in Venezuela in the last 17 years was 23 days. If Venezuelans do go to the polls by late July, less than four months will have passed between the announcement of the CCA and the election.
The Lethargic CNE
The CNE that we saw last year is lethargic. It moves slowly: not deliberately, just slowly. It is pedantic and inefficient, so much so that it is unable to do its task entirely.
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) first requested that the CNE begin the recall referendum process against Maduro in the fist week of March 2016. The CNE denied that first request. It also denied the second request. By March 16, the MUD had asked the CNE three times to begin the referendum process, and three times the CNE denied the request.
It was not until April 26, nearly two months after the initial request was made, that the CNE gave the MUD the forms that it needed to begin collecting signatures in favour of the recall. The CNE gave the MUD 30 days to collect the required amount of signatures to start the referendum process, but the opposition managed to surpass that goal by over a million signatures in less than one week. When the opposition suggested that it would hand in the signatures early in order to speed the process along, the CNE said that it would still wait the full 30 day period before moving on to the next stage of the process.
The rest of the story, which spans over the course of six frustrating months, is too labyrinthine to describe here. The story develops with a listless CNE dragging its feet and refusing to lift a finger unless forced to do so by overwhelming popular pressure.
In the end, the CNE cancelled the entire referendum process on October 21. The official reason for the cancellation was that courts in four PSUV-controlled states had found irregularities in the signature collection process in those jurisdictions. The CNE cancelled the electoral process almost immediately after the rulings from these courts–all of which, in an impressive coincidence, were issued on the same afternoon.
The total elapsed time from the time that the MUD first requested the start of the referendum process until the time that the CNE reluctantly agreed to start it was nearly two months. The referendum vote never ended up taking place, and it was a full six months before the CNE decided to put an end to it entirely.
The Two CNEs
It is clear that the CNE operates on two speeds: one speed for the regime, and the other for the majority of Venezuelans. One CNE is cooperative, helpful, and is glad to host elections. The other CNE is stubborn, distant, and prevents elections from taking place. Which one you get depends on which side of the fence you are on.
Even the most superficial survey of the two cases that I have outlined above will show that the CNE as it exists today works for the benefit of the Maduro regime, and actively resists the will of the Venezuelan people. As I said earlier, I do not think I would personally qualify this as an example of a type of Venezuelan apartheid, but it is obvious that the Maduro regime and the institutions that it controls openly discriminate against those who do not support the PSUV.
We have been overwhelmed with images of arbitrary violence against opposition protesters since April 1. This type of government-sponsored violence is horrific and inexcusable. It is imperative that we not forget that the type of discriminatory governance, as made clear through the example of the two CNEs, is also horrific and inexcusable. In the end, both work toward the same end: the violent oppression of the Venezuelan people.
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