The “Lima Group” of Latin American nations plus Canada has criticised the Venezuelan government’s decision to hold a presidential election on April 22 without reaching an agreement with an opposition coalition.
Venezuela’s socialist government set the date on February 7, setting the stage for the likely re-election of President Nicolas Maduro despite his widespread unpopularity and a crushing economic crisis.
In a statement, the 14 countries said the election would not be free and fair as long as Venezuela has political prisoners, the opposition was not fully participating and Venezuelans abroad were not allowed to vote.
They urged the government to present a new electoral calendar.
The statement stopped short of saying the group would not recognise the results of the election, though several members, including Venezuela’s neighbour Colombia, have already done so.
Peru’s Foreign Minister Cayetana Aljovin also told a news conference that Maduro would not be welcome at the Summit of the Americas to be held in Lima on April 13 and 14.
Venezuela’s foreign minister had recently tweeted that Maduro planned to attend.
The Lima Group statement said the group respected Peru’s decision.
The Lima Group also pledged to co-ordinate efforts to confront an exodus of Venezuelans that is putting pressure on the country’s neighbours.
Colombia and Brazil tightened border controls last week as both nations grappled with a mounting influx of hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants.
Earlier Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said the country needs international aid to help cope with the humanitarian crisis caused by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing over the border.
“I appreciate the offers of financial and other aid from the international community. We are fully prepared to receive them. We need them because unfortunately this problem gets worse day by day,” Santos said at an event in Bogota.
Last week, Santos tightened border controls and heightened security in frontier towns.
Colombia’s migration authority has said that the number of Venezuelans living in Colombia increased 62% to more than 550,000 in the second half of 2017.
Colombia has estimated that it costs $5 per day to give each Venezuelan migrant food and lodging.
As the number of Venezuelans crossing the border increases, including unattended children who get free vaccinations and education, Colombia estimates it would need $30mn to build an assistance centre to give the migrants a temporary place to stay before deciding their next move.
Venezuela is in the throes of a protracted, severe recession that has cast many people into abject poverty. That, combined with hyperinflation in the oil-rich country, has led to the mass exodus.
Last Thursday, Santos said he would institute stricter migration controls, temporarily suspend new daily entry cards, and deploy 3,000 new security personnel, including 2,120 more soldiers, along the 2,219km shared frontier.
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