The US and more than a dozen Latin American countries have warned Venezuela its presidential election next month would be seen as illegitimate by the region unless it restored democratic standards.
The May 20 poll would be “void of legitimacy and credibility” if it went ahead under current conditions, the nations said in a joint declaration released at a Summit of the Americas in Peru.
Venezuela’s opposition says President Nicolas Maduro has prepared a rigged snap election to deliver him a new mandate and tighten his hold over his economically devastated country.
US Vice President Mike Pence, representing America at the summit, said the election was a “sham.”
“The US is prepared to continue to bring all pressure to bear, working with our allies,” to restore democracy in Venezuela, he told reporters.
The joint statement was signed by the US and the 16-nation Lima Group which counts Latin America’s biggest economies, including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.
Canada, whose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed extreme concern over Venezuela’s situation during remarks at the close of the summit, is also part of the group.
The statement demanded “necessary guarantees” for the Venezuelan poll to be recognised: a fair and transparent electoral process; the release of political prisoners; and the participation of the opposition, which has been largely excluded.
Maduro was not invited to the Peru summit. He has accused the US of helping Venezuela’s opposition to undermine his authority by waging what he calls an economic “war.”
The US has already slapped sanctions on Maduro, his officials, and Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA.
Some of the measures prevent Venezuela accessing international credit through US markets, speeding economic ruin that has the impoverished-yet-oil-rich nation in its jaws.
Pence said in Lima as he met several Venezuelan opposition figures that more sanctions could be forthcoming.
Venezuela is already struggling with growing isolation, worsened by its decision last week to stop Panama’s Copa airline flying in and out of Caracas — one of the few major international airlines left for Venezuelans to exit their country.
So far, however, Washington has stopped short of imposing an embargo on Venezuelan oil imports — a measure that would be crippling for Caracas but also damaging to refiners in the US dependent on Venezuela’s heavy crude.
Hyperinflation, scarcities of basic food and medicine, and skyrocketing violence are gripping Venezuela, prompting a swelling exodus of its citizens that is increasingly of concern for both the UN and the Lima Group, who called upon international organisations to establish a support programme.
The International Organisation for Migration says nearly 1mn Venezuelans have left the country over the past two years.
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