Pompeo: US will not back opposition's bid to participate in Maduro's 'electoral farce'

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Opposition leader Juan Guaido, left, and president of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro. - Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Thursday that the United States will not recognize the results of the December parliamentary elections organized by Nicolas Maduro, despite the controversial decision by some members of the Venezuelan opposition to participate in the ballot.

“Conditions for free and fair elections do not exist in Venezuela,” Pompeo said in a statement. “We, and our democratic partners in Venezuela and the international community, will not contribute to legitimizing yet another electoral fraud carried out by the Maduro regime.”

Recent statements by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles calling for participation in the National Assembly elections have caused a split in the opposition, which until now supported a boycott called by Juan Guaido, recognized as interim president of Venezuela by the United States and about 60 countries.

“This is not a democratic regime, but if it leaves a little gap, we have to put our hand in, and then put our foot in,” Capriles said in a message released Wednesday on social media. “We are not going to give Maduro the National Assembly as a gift. I call on people to mobilize”.

This week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu revealed that his country acted as an intermediary in conversations between Capriles and National Assembly member Stalin Gonzalez with the Maduro government, regarding the opposition’s participation in the upcoming vote.

“Let’s be clear: whether it is the Chinese, the Russians, or the Europeans, we will speak with everyone we need to get the Venezuelans out of this crisis,” Capriles wrote on Twitter. The former governor of the state of Miranda said that because of his “personal efforts,” Maduro agreed to release 110 political prisoners.

Guaido immediately broke ties with Capriles.

“We want to be categorical: These actions were carried out without the knowledge or authorization of the interim government, the National Assembly, our international allies, and outside the unitary agreement announced by 27 political organizations that group the democratic forces. Therefore, we do not recognize them,” Guaido said in a statement.

Criticism of Capriles and accusations labeling him a “collaborationist” of the Maduro regime exploded in social media, but many Venezuelans also seem frustrated with Guaido’s lackluster results. Almost two years after he invoked the constitution to claim the interim presidency, he has not been able to unseat Maduro, propped up by the military and foreign governments like Cuba and Russia.

Capriles and his followers also recalled that after the opposition decided not to participate in the Assembly elections in 2005, the Chavista government swiftly passed laws to increase its control over the country.

The fracture within the opposition poses a unique challenge to U.S. policymakers. Until now, and despite the doubts expressed by President Donald Trump himself, his administration has vowed to support Guaido. The state Department presented a transition plan centered on holding free elections that must meet various requirements.

Pompeo said Thursday that little has changed in the country to guarantee the integrity of a new election.

“None of the political parties whose leadership was removed and their names, symbols, and assets stolen by the regime have been restored, including parties from the left that challenge the regime’s control of Chavez’s political legacy,” said the U.S. top diplomat.

“Many political opponents of the regime are still prohibited from running for office and remain without political rights,” he added. “The illegally appointed National Electoral Commission remains under tight regime control, a fact that will become critical because complex registration processes are in its hands.”

Eyeing an opportunity to regain international legitimacy, the Maduro government quickly sent a letter on Tuesday to the United Nations and the European Union, inviting them to participate in the elections as “international observers.” The letter alluded to guarantees such as the handover for subsequent review of the electoral register and using “indelible ink” to mark ballots.

But Pompeo also sent a message to the European allies urging them to reject the offer because the “minimum conditions to receive a credible international electoral observation mission remain absent.”

After feeding false hopes with the “all options are on the table” mantra, the U.S. government has recently stressed that it does not support a military solution to Venezuela’s conflict. That possibility was again suggested last week by another high-profile opposition leader who also broke ranks with Guaido.

“Maria Corina (Machado) is apparently free to say whatever she likes, and I would not try to censor her remarks, but I am reminded of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the famous magical realism,” Abrams said in an interview with Colombian TV station NTN24.

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