- Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director, RFK Partners for Human Rights
- Miriam Kornblith, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, National Endowment for Democracy
- José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director, Americas Division, Human Rights Watch
The September 10 sentencing of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López is the latest example of the country's deteriorating democracy, according to a panel that spoke on the Venezuela's upcoming December legislative elections. "In order to have a free and fair elections, you need to have a level playing field," said Santiago A. Canton, adding that imprisoning an opposition leader without any evidence means "it's going to be a transitional election in the best case scenario."
Panelists agreed the lack of an independent judiciary is one of the main issues. "Judges act like soldiers following superior orders," said José Miguel Vivanco. He said judges only serve to validate the executive branch, given 2004 reforms that made it easier for a simple majority approve judge appointments.
Additionally, the government has fabricated issues to to generate difficulties for a free and fair election. Miriam Kornblith says these are part of a "big bang strategy," the latest of which was to close the border with Colombia in Zulia, the district with the largest number of Venezuelan voters.