The CNE Agreement: Who’s Afraid of the Guarimba?

The Maduro government is staging a new pact not to comply with it but to use the traumas from 2017 and the middle class' anxiety

On June 20th, Nicolás Maduro and eight presidential candidates –none of them from the Democratic Unitary Platform (PUD) or close to it– signed an agreement to recognize the results that will be announced by the National Electoral Council (CNE) on July 28th. The commitment, already present in the Barbados Agreements, does not seek to generate an effect on the hardline Chavista vote or on its traditional voters who are dissatisfied. The message aims to inhibit votes for Edmundo González in a sector of the middle class, which despite self-identifying as opposition, distrusts the leadership of María Corina Machado.

Since the beginning of the electoral race, the official strategy has been to divide and fragment the democratic leadership and inhibit voting against. Given that it was foreseeable that the PUD candidate would not support the initiative, this refusal would be used to strengthen the strategic campaign narrative promoted by the Executive. Jorge Rodríguez evidenced this in his harangues in favor of the agreement: “The candidate of the banner [Edmundo González], one of the patarucos, is not going to sign anything. Of course, we already know that he is going to accuse us of fraud, are you committed to violence?”. Enrique Márquez, who has been seen as a possible Plan D for the opposition if González is removed from the race, also did not sign the agreement –which includes the rejection of sanctions and the “recognition” of the CNE for “compliying with the electoral guarantees” among its points.

In the days prior to the signing of the new agreement, Maduro – in his new radio program “Con Maduro de Repente” and just before a playlist of salsa brava and Cuban trova– alluded to the same narrative as Rodríguez, ensuring that the proposed agreement would allow “the foundations of peace so that no one is going to invent or shout about fraud, or guarimbas [protesters barricades].” Chavismo is clearly appealing to the rejection of some traditionally opposition sectors with the episodes of insurrection and street violence in recent years.

An example of these sectors is Pedro (not his real name): a man from Caracas, almost 60 years old, who works as a professor at a private university in the capital. With creative ways he has managed to surf the waves of the crisis, doing consulting and translations for third parties billed in dollars from the beginning. These gigs allowed him to earn the decent salary that the classrooms denied him. Through juggling, he kept his family within the country and his youngest son is about to receive his bachelor’s degree. Although he was never a Chavista, and did not vote for Nicolás Maduro, he swore to himself never to support María Corina Machado since the guarimbas gave him headaches when entering and leaving his apartment in the east of the city. In the primaries he voted for Andrés Caleca. Today, from his Twitter account, he does not miss the opportunity to torpedo the initiatives of the Vente Venezuela party.

People like Pedro are precisely the target sought by the official campaign that tries to explain the conflict –and capitalize on votes– as the confrontation between “Peace”, represented by the ruling party, and “Violence”, today endorsed to Machado.

Of course, the rejection of the opposition gathered in the PUD and the Con Vzla Command comes from the rough path that the Barbados Agreements have suffered since their signing in October 2023. Although the agreement was celebrated by the Foro Cívico –a platform that brings together dialoguista sectors of civil society– and the “third way” candidates, González rejected it from the beginning: “Signing an agreement, for what? The first one that has violated the agreements they sign is the Government. We have the Barbados Agreements, which have remained a dead letter,” he explained.

Indeed, the “Partial Agreement on the promotion of political rights and electoral guarantees for all”, known as the “Barbados Agreement” , establishes in its article 3, paragraph 12 the “Public recognition of the results of the presidential elections”. For the first time, the Bolivarian authorities had committed to meeting a series of conditions so that citizens could enjoy their right to choose and be elected. And like never before, the international community granted Miraflores different incentives to honor its pledged word: the release of Alex Saab, sectorial and financial sanctions relief and the review of individual sanctions. However, since the day after the signing of the pact in Bridgetown, the government of Maduro started to fail to comply with the terms of the agreement. Why would it be willing to honor a new covenant? Why is the signing of an “agreement to respect results” promoted if it was clearly established in the Barbados Agreement?

In fact, Chavismo –in March– had already signed the so-called “Caracas Agreement” with loyal sectors outside PSUV as a more “inclusive and comprehensive replacement” of the Barbados Agreements, in the words of Rodríguez. For Chavismo, respecting the rules of the game is the least important thing. Each of their speeches must be interpreted according to the effect they wish to achieve on the audience to which they are directed.

This way, the objective of this new pact is to neutralize the vote of the Pedros, that sector of the opposition middle class, very active on social media, that maintains their misgivings about the figure of Machado. They have two types of strong ideas present. The first is that, at some point, Machado will go off the electoral and institutional route due to her supposed anti-political irrationality. The second, which has been bought by a sector of the business community, is that the transition will be uncertain and costly –socially and economically– so Venezuela will experience a period of chaos and unrest.

Thus, the message seeks to penetrate that middle class that has managed to overcome the crisis and that could think that how much or how little it has –the adaptation curve that it achieved with the so-called “pax bodegónica” during the short period of economic growth that followed to dollarization– could be at risk in a government influenced by the leader of Vente Venezuela. The intended effect is not to make them vote for Nicolás Maduro, which is almost impossible, but to prevent them from choosing the option of Edmundo González due to the social pressure from their circle. “Mejor malo conocido,” Pedro repeats to himself, convinced that although things are not the best today, “hasta el final” will bring the apocalypse.

Chavista efforts suggest that an attempt will be made to slice as many oppositions votes as possible, using multiple strategies in different dimensions, with the aim of shortening the gap between González and Maduro or trying to reverse it. It remains to be seen whether it will be effective.

In Argentina, recently, the end of the campaign was characterized by the same antithesis: Fear versus Change. Sergio Massa, economy minister of a country in crisis, failed to convince that his government would be anything other than continuity. And given the lack of a credible future promise for Argentines, he focused the end of his campaign on the apocalypse that would come if the country were governed by others. Finally, Milei obtained 55% of the votes and achieved majority support in 20 of the country’s 23 provinces. After 20 years of Kirchnerism, the population was convinced of the need for change. When a limit is reached, threats do not stop the desire to live differently.