In a decision that prompted renewed criticism from the opposition, the government opted to abstain in Wednesday’s Organisation of American States (OAS) vote on a resolution condemning last week’s parliamentary elections in Venezuela as "fraudulent" and "neither free nor fair."
The resolution was only opposed by Bolivia and Mexico, while 21 of the 34 delegations voted in favour with five countries (including Argentina), abstaining and six staying out of the virtual debate.
The Venezuelan government regained control of the crisis-stricken country’s National Assembly last Sunday, in a vote that was boycotted by the main opposition parties and condemned by much of the international community.
With no real opponents and widespread apathy, government-affiliated parties received 253 of the 277 seats up for grabs, the electoral council announced Wednesday. The landslide cements Nicolás Maduro’s grip on the last major institution in the country that has democratic legitimacy and further weakens US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who led a boycott of the vote after calling it "a fraud."
The United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, the European Union and Canada were among the countries that announced they would not recognise the results, with the OAS following suit on Wednesday. However, in line with its existing position on relations with Caracas, Argentina refused to back the statement.
"My country reiterates its respect for the importance of the electoral mechanism as the only way to advance towards the necessary institutional renewal, which leads towards the full validity of democracy and human rights,” said Ambassador to the OAS Carlos Raimundi, as he confirmed Argentina would not support the motion.
"In that sense we are convinced that this cannot be achieved from the outside by overlooking the will expressed by those who participated in the election nor by dictating conditions for the electoral process without making the least contribution towards them or, worse still, encouraging their boycott."
"The current National Assembly’s time is up on January 5, as established by Venezuelan norms, so that it is contradictory to argue that the only way out for Venezuela is a presumed transitional government while scorning the importance of heeding the Venezuelan Constitution."
Raimundi further added that "the policy of sanctions and withholding recognition has not led anywhere, which [should] merit reflection," though he he also balanced his argument by saying “the Venezuelan government must admit that a democracy is complete when a majority of the people feel engaged," an oblique reference to the extremely low electoral turnout, which electoral authorities said was close to 30 percent.
The Argentine envoy further placed the ball in the court of the Maduro regime when he said: "The main responsibility for producing positive dialogue has been and remains with the government of the Republic of Venezuela. We hope that our Venezuelan brothers can find the best path towards resolving their problems."
"We regret that from the OAS we have not been able to advance towards strengthening the democratic process in Venezuela, towards which the resolution under consideration contributes nothing," concluded Raimundi, thus abstaining for the second time running following last October’s OAS resolution warning of the conditions required to recognise the electoral process.
These conditions were defined as "liberty, justice, impartiality, transparency, the guaranteed participation of all political players and the whole citizenry and the release of political prisoners."
Calling the Maduro regime "illegitimate," the text of Wednesday’s OAS resolution ruled that its conditions had not been met, noting in particular that not all political forces had participated, nor had political prisoners been released nor was there independence of the electoral authorities.
The December 6 National Assembly elections had "the evident aim of eliminating the only legitimate and democratically elected institution in Venezuela," the resolution continued, also declaring "its support for the initiative of Venezuelan society to hold a popular referendum."
The Lima Group of Latin American countries voting in favour of the OAS resolution was joined by the US, the EU and Britain in refusing to recognise the elections, which lacked “both legality and legitimacy,” according to a statement.
The Lima Group accounted for 16 of the 21 countries voting for the resolution (Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Santa Lucia with Argentina the only member withholding support) while further votes came from the United States, Uruguay and even Venezuela itself – since that country is represented on the OAS by a representative of Guaidó.
Members of Argentina’s opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition criticised the "new electoral farce undertaken by the Maduro regime" in a statement, while describing the Alberto Fernández administration's lack of condemnation as a "disgrace."
Maduro’s alliance won over two-thirds of the vote in Sunday’s elections, thus enabling him to regain an absolute majority.
The socialist leader hailed the results, saying Venezuela was facing “a new dawn of peace, joy, unity and strengthening of democratic institutions."
Speaking on Tuesday, Maduro said he was hopeful of re-opening channels of communication with Washington and US President-elect Joe Biden.
"We have always been willing and will always be willing to establish relations with communication, dialogue and respect with the government of the United States," Maduro told a press conference in Caracas.
"Let's hope that the new government of Mr Joe Biden is installed, let's hope that they have time to think and let's hope that channels of communication and dialogue between Venezuela and the United States are opened."
The target of US sanctions aiming to force him from power, Maduro broke off diplomatic relations with Washington in January 2019, after US President Donald Trump's administration – along with more than 50 other nations – recognised Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president.
Maduro also claimed that he had abruptly switched his voting venue to the main military base in Caracas last Sunday after being informed of a plan to assassinate him.
"We received information from very reliable Colombian intelligence sources, that they were preparing an attack to assassinate me on election day," said the Venezuelan leader, who has regularly denounced alleged US or Colombian plots to kill him.