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Ecumenical observers declare Venezuela’s elections transparent and efficient

World Mission staff member part of the election’s ecumenical monitors

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. María Jiménez de Ramírez, executive secretary of the Synod of the IPV (the Presbyterian Church of Venezuela), snapped this photo at her polling place. (Photo courtesy of the Rev. María Jiménez de Ramírez)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Dr. Valdir França, World Mission’s coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, said Sunday’s contentious elections in Venezuela were tranquil and there was no evidence of any voter intimidation.

He knows firsthand, because he was one of a group of ecumenical observers invited to virtually monitor the election.

The seven observers from the U.S., Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean were brought together by the Evangelical Pentecostal Union of Venezuela (UEPV) and assisted by the Venezuelan Human Rights Organization, SURES. SURES is a Venezuelan civil association dedicated to the study, promotion, education and defense of human rights from critical, emancipatory and alternative visions.

The International Commission of Churches and Ecumenical Agencies included:

  • Angel Luis Rivera Agosto, Executive for Latin America and the Caribbean, Division of Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada and United Church of Christ of the United States
  • Catherine Nichols, Vice-President and Mission Personnel Executive, Division of Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States Canada and United Church of Christ in the United States
  • França
  • Christie Neufeldt, Area Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, United Church of Canada
  • Bishop Medardo Gómez, Salvadorean Lutheran Synod
  • Lorenzo Mota King, Executive Director, Social Service of Dominican Churches
  • Carola Tron, Moderator, Waldensian Evangelical Church of the Río de la Plata, Uruguay.

In preparation for their work, the commission held advance trainings about the specifics of the Venezuelan electoral system and the implications for respect and affirmation of human rights in Venezuela.

During their unprecedented virtual observation experience, the observers used Zoom to accompany, in real-time, three periods of time during the polling day (morning, noon, and closing of elections).

In their final report, they wrote, “We recognize the limitations of this type of observation; however, having the testimony of the Venezuelan churches and SURES’s help, we have obtained firsthand information from the whole process.  At the close of the day, we were also able to interview other entities working on human rights in the country, such as the Venezuelan Association of Jurists.”

The former prime minister of Spain, José Luís Rodriguez Zapatero, an international observer, with Dr. Indira Alfonzo, director of the Consejo Nacional Electoral of Venezuela. (Photo courtesy of SURES)

As in the U.S. elections, the COVID-19 pandemic kept some voters away from the polls — primarily elderly voters who have been the most active voting age group in previous elections. There were other challenges as well: fuel shortages reduced the availability of public transportation, and a vigorous social media campaign was waged to keep voters away from the polls.

Although the voting has yet to be certified, parliamentary candidates supporting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro won control of the parliament or National Assembly. Key opposition candidates boycotted the election over accusations of corruption in the Venezuelan government. In January 2019 the opposition-majority National Assembly declared Juan Guaidó the acting president.

The observers reported that the electoral process was transparent; computerized systems worked efficiently; voter identification was adequate; face masks, hand sanitizers and social distancing was respected; and both the National Electoral Council and the presence of authorized military kept voters safe during the election.

In its final report, the ecumenical observers called for peace, dialogue and understanding in Venezuela.

“We reject the promotion of violence and interference by external factors in Venezuelan life,” observers said in their report. “In the absence of specific findings that question its suitability, we understand that the electoral process is the best way to respect the Venezuelan people’s free and sovereign will.”

 

the Rev. Dr. Valdir França

França said the observers concluded that the people of Venezuela would most benefit from less outside interference. “We need to respect the protagonism of the Venezuelan people as the main actors of their history and resolve their own problems with sovereignty,” he said. “They need to decide for themselves what they want and how to make it work.”

The U.S. and more than 50 other countries have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader. Trump administration officials and advisers to President-elect Joe Biden say they’ll continue to do so following Sunday’s vote. Guaidó says he’ll remain in the country after his term ends on Jan. 5, 2021. Maduro is backed by Russia, China and Cuba, among other countries.

The Trump administration announced additional sanctions on Venezuela in 2019, freezing all government assets in the United States and authorizing the Treasury Department to sanction any individual, business or entity assisting the Maduro administration.

While the internal context of conflict and polarization continues and the international policies oppressing the country affect people’s lives in Venezuela, the Church encourages prayers, advocacy and support. As a result, they continue to minister to the most vulnerable.

Rev. María Jiménez de Ramírez, executive secretary of the Synod of the IPV (the Presbyterian Church of Venezuela), asks us all to “join in helping by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessings granted us through the prayers of many.” (2 Cor. 1:11)


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