Venezuela forges ahead with referendum in defiance of world, ICJ
– allegations arise of Maduro Govt bullying citizens to go out and vote amid low turnout
Under the watchful eyes of the world, Venezuela on Sunday went ahead with its planned referendum containing all five questions as is, including a question asking its citizens for approval to annex Essequibo and ultimately create a Venezuelan state. Essequibo forms almost 2/3 of Guyana’s territory.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro led the way in casting votes at the elections on Sunday. The National Electoral Council of Venezuela has reported that over 20 million were expected to vote at 28,000 polling stations across Venezuela.
The process commenced at 6:00h and ended at 18:00h, with the results slated to be released early Monday morning.
ABC News reported that lines of about 30 people could be seen at some of them, while at others, voters did not have to wait at all to cast their ballots. That contrasts with other electoral processes when hundreds of people gathered outside voting centers from the start.
However, while millions cast their ballots in the referendum, the event is overshadowed not only by the disapproval of the regional and international community but by opposition to the referendum within Venezuela itself.
Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, a former Deputy in the Venezuelan National Assembly, is one such critic of the referendum. Machado, who is widely tipped to defeat Maduro in next year’s presidential elections once the process is a free and fair one, has been vocal in her opposition to the referendum, which she has said will do more harm than good.
In a recent interview with a Miami-based online publication, Machado had denounced the Maduro regime’s referendum as irresponsible and urged them to focus on preparing a proper defence for its case before the ICJ, where the border controversy awaits a final and binding settlement.
“I’m not going to speculate what they’re looking for. What I can tell you is that this does not help the defence of Essequibo and the territorial integrity of Venezuela. On the contrary, once again, the regime’s irresponsible actions are putting Venezuela’s sovereignty at risk in a territory that is strategic and that belongs to Venezuela,” Machado had said.
“We cannot do anything that at this moment would harm our position in the International Court of Justice, whose process is underway. So, what we must all focus on is that the best jurists, expert specialists in this matter, put themselves at the service of the country and not in a propaganda action that will harm us even more,” the politician further told the publication.
Machado is not the only one speaking out. Videos have been circulating online of Venezuelans urging persons not to be brainwashed by the referendum. There have been reports of Government employees and school children in Venezuela being forced to vote in the referendum.
In fact, in one video a school teacher can be seen standing on a stage warning that students are being deceived and manipulated with the referendum in high schools. In another video, a woman who identified herself as Rebeca Mora accused the Maduro regime of kidnapping her 14-year-old son.
In the video, she claimed that her son is being pressured into voting in the referendum and is being threatened with repeating a school year. Further, it is alleged that these tactics are being used throughout Venezuela to get millions of people to go out and vote.
“They grabbed and kidnapped my son, he told him that he had to vote for cash because he was a child of 14 years… in order to vote, that is not done. I want to have information,” the visibly frustrated woman said in her video stream, which went viral.
Last month, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council had published a list of five questions that it planned to put before the Venezuelan people in the December 3, 2023 referendum. The referendum sought the Venezuelan people’s approval to, among other things, annex Essequibo and create a Venezuelan state. It also sought the citizens’ approval for Venezuela to grant citizenship and identity cards to residents of Essequibo.
Over the past few weeks, Guyana has been informing regional and international partners of Venezuela’s referendum, which has been criticised by the United States, Caricom, and the Organisation of American States (OAS), as well as several other nations in the Region, including Brazil.
On Friday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling barring Venezuela from taking any action emanating from the referendum, to seize Essequibo while the Court makes its decision about the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award.
After years of failed good offices process via the United Nations (UN), Guyana is seeking a final and binding judgement from the ICJ to reinforce that the 1899 Arbitral Award remains valid and binding on all parties, as well as legal affirmation that Guyana’s Essequibo region, which contains much of the country’s natural resources, belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela.