The Electoral Registry Is a Heap of Trouble for Venezuelans in Argentina

Venezuelans living in Argentina are trying to register to vote in the next presidential elections. But after meeting with the ambassador, Milei and Maduro fighting and an airplane conspiracy the situation seems quite chaotic.

After Elvis Amoros, the National Electoral Council (CNE) president, announced the presidential elections will take place on July 28th, a question arose from the ashes of our electoral system: the diaspora vote. This vote, comprising around 5 million Venezuelans living abroad, represents a significant potential voting bloc. However, the process for registration abroad has been marred by delays and irregularities. 

Despite the CNE announcing a registration period from March 18th to April 16th, the regime failed to comply with this timeframe. 

In Buenos Aires, where the only Venezuelan diplomatic representation in Argentina exists, the struggle for voting rights has intensified, exacerbating current tensions between Miraflores and Casa Rosada. Only around 1000 Venezuelans are permitted to vote, when the current population is 200.000. 

Fearmongering from Chavismo

The current relations between Argentina and Venezuela underwent a significant shift last December. When Javier Milei took office as President, he marked a frontal opposition to Maduro’s regime. However, even before Milei, the relations between both countries weren’t the best.

Former President Alberto Fernández, seen as a puppet of long-time Chavista ally Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, initially tried a more conciliatory policy towards Venezuela. He attempted to normalize relations and supported Maduro in various international meetings. However, in June 2022, the relationship broke down. A Venezuelan cargo airplane landed in Argentina under suspicious circumstances. The plane, which had previously been sanctioned and was formerly owned by an Iranian state-owned airliner, was filled with Venezuelan personnel and the pilots were allegedly members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The landing of the plane triggered active alerts in Argentina, particularly given the alleged presence of pro-Iranian operatives on the approach of the anniversary of the AMIA bombing. Argentine authorities launched an investigation and subsequently confiscated the plane. The incident further strained relations between the two countries. Maduro actively campaigned for the return of the plane and accused Fernández of treason and robbery. Months later, Buenos Aires organized the CELAC summit, and Fernández extended an invitation to Maduro. However, a swift and coordinated response from opposition parties in both Argentina and Venezuela, particularly in Argentina, canceled Maduro’s visit. 

Presidential candidate at the time and former Minister of Security, Patricia Bullrich, led an international campaign, sending an alert to DEA,  to arrest Maduro in the event of his visit to the country. This pressure, combined with the opposition’s resistance, effectively prevented Maduro from attending the CELAC summit in Buenos Aires. The incident further strained relations between the two countries and highlighted the deep political divisions within Argentina regarding its stance towards the Maduro regime.

With the deterioration of relations, Jorge Rodriguez recently stated that due to Milei, Venezuelans in Argentina would not be able to vote. He said that because of the Argentine government, Venezuelan citizens residing in Argentina had no chance of voting, in spite of the Argentine government never addressing the issue of the Venezuelan vote in the country. This statement was accompanied by Maduro labeling Milei as a “neonazi”. Rodriguez’s declaration sparked criticism within the Venezuelan community in Argentina, prompting many NGOs and political parties to mobilize their resources for the upcoming election.

Stella’s hesitation

The uncertainty following Rodriguez’s declaration raised questions about whether the Venezuelan Embassy in Buenos Aires would indeed open the registration process after Amoroso publicized the calendar. The situation in the United States –where the break up of diplomatic relations led to the closure of all Venezuelan consulates– also raised alarms for Venezuelan political parties in Buenos Aires, prompting Maria Corina Machado’s team and other NGOs to start pressuring for a response from the embassy. 

A week before the scheduled start of the registry, members of various political parties and civil society jointly wrote a letter to Ambassador Stella Lugo, marking a significant development in the story. Lugo, the Chavista former governor of Falcon State who had previously dealt with controversial situations like the Amuay Tragedy, personally received the letter and promised to ensure that all Venezuelans in Argentina would be able to register. However, it appears she has not followed through on her promise. In simple words, she lied to all the Venezuelan community in Argentina. The process took two weeks to start, and it was never officially published by the Embassy. Instead, the Venezuelan community received information through informal channels, such as individuals asking at the embassy’s door and receiving the information from staff members. 

The Roar of the Lion 

Lugo’s lies had led to daily protests outside the embassy, with more Venezuelans joining each day to demand the opening of the electoral register. Despite the growing anger, the embassy responded only by recording the protests in a threatening manner and being silent toward the registry. Additionally, the protests had forced the embassy to operate with its metal curtains closed and to cease operations on workdays,causing inconvenience to other Venezuelans who needed assistance with documentation.

The political response to the situation has been significant, with the Unitary Platform and Maria Corina Machado’s team in the country successfully bringing the Venezuelan topic back into discussion. They have held meetings with senators, deputies, ministers and even sent a private letter to the Pope. Machado herself recently addressed Congress’ Foreign Policy Commission, expressing gratitude for Argentina’s new stance towards Venezuela.

During this meeting, National Deputy Juliana Santillan, who is closely associated with Javier Milei, expressed admiration for Machado, even stating that the president himself was a great admirer of her. This recognition from Milei´s party to Machado was seen as the birth of a new interest in supporting the Venezuelan opposition from the National Government. 

The recognition has indeed materialized, with the “Lion”, as Milei likes to call himself, entering the Venezuelan political arena in a really direct manner. When Machado’s closest staff members faced persecution by SEBIN (Venezuela’s intelligence agency), Milei approved giving asylum in the embassy to five members of Vente Venezuela’s directive board and in coordination with the Minister of Security tried to send Federal Police officers to guard the Embassy. Through the Presidential Office, Milei and Chancellor Modino emphasized the importance of regional cooperation in order to pressure Maduro into accepting free elections in the country. This measure was implemented after Maduro decided to prohibit Argentinian airplanes from flying over Venezuela in retaliation for Milei’s government sending the confiscated Venezuelan airplane to the US.

The last tango 

At the moment of writing this article, the Venezuelan embassy has not provided any information regarding the electoral register. Although the registration has started, the embassy has not addressed any protocols or specifications regarding the requirements needed to fulfill the process. The few individuals who registered provided varying accounts of the requirements, as some were able to register with an expired passport while others were not.

The prevailing sentiment among most Venezuelans is that there are very few chances of actually being able to vote in the next elections. Both Argentina and Venezuela political activists perceive that the Embassy is making a major effort to deny a faithful registration process. This perception underscores the deep frustration and distrust within the Venezuelan community regarding the electoral process and the embassy’s handling of voter registration, even among those who are already registered, doubts persist regarding the freedom and validity of their vote.  

Indeed, the current situation has unfolded as a last dance between the Argentine national government, the Venezuelan Embassy, and opposition parties in Argentina. In this tango with three dancers, there are thousands of Venezuelans hoping to vote, a diplomatic corps under pressure, and a government that has chosen to directly confront chavism.

The stakes are high, as the outcome will not only affect the Venezuelan diaspora’s ability to participate in the electoral process but also reflect the broader geopolitical tensions between Argentina and Venezuela.