Colombia and Brazil Take Unusual Step of Criticizing Venezuela Over Elections

(Bloomberg) -- Colombia and Brazil took the unusual step of criticizing Venezuela after the country’s opposition said it was blocked from registering its candidate for the July 28 election.

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Preventing opposition candidates from taking part in the vote could undermine the international community’s trust, Colombia’s foreign affairs ministry warned President Nicolas Maduro’s government in a statement Tuesday.

“Colombia expresses its concern about the recent events that occurred on the occasion of the registration of some presidential candidates,” the foreign ministry said.

Brazil’s foreign affairs ministry also said that it is following the process “with concern,” especially as Venezuela has yet to provide any explanation for the obstruction. Both nations said problems facing the opposition raised concerns about free and fair elections.

The comments align Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — leftists who have kept close ties with Venezuela’s socialist government — with Argentina and six other Latin American nations that raised similar concerns Monday, after the opposition said it had been unable to register its candidate Corina Yoris ahead of the midnight deadline.

In separate statements, Venezuela’s foreign affairs minister Yvan Gil accused Colombia and Brazil of interfering in his nation’s internal affairs.

A Divided Opposition

Amid the criticism, the head of the opposition announced Tuesday afternoon that the country’s electoral council had granted a 12-hour extension to allow for the registration of a candidate. Omar Barboza, the president of the 10-party opposition coalition known as the Unitary Platform, said it had chosen to enter former ambassador Edmundo Gonzalez into the presidential race.

But that decision is unlikely to win the support of at least some key coalition members, including Maria Corina Machado, who overwhelmingly won an opposition primary last year but is banned from seeking office.

Earlier Tuesday, Machado said she would continue backing Yoris, who was chosen to replace her last week. The reaction followed a surprise move by opposition party A New Era to register Manuel Rosales, the governor of Zulia state, in the race just before the original deadline passed.

The struggle has threatened to divide the opposition, a result that would put Maduro on track for an all-but-certain reelection victory.

The entry of each candidate still needs approval from the electoral authority. Maduro’s government, which in late January ratified Machado’s ban and has cracked down on her allies in recent weeks, has invited international organizations to monitor the election, but none has confirmed attendance.

--With assistance from Nicolle Yapur.

(Updates with Venezuela Foreign Affairs Ministry statements in sixth paragraph.)

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