Venezuela loses last claim to democ­racy

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

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Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s bo­gus vote to re­write Venezuela’s con­sti­tu­tion is an af­front to the coun­try’s demo­cratic gov­ern­ment. To per­suade him to change course, Venezuela’s neigh­bours will have to forge an un­prece­dented com­mon front.

Not­with­stand­ing the regime’s claims, the num­ber of Venezue­lans who voted for a new con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion on Sun­day was likely well un­der half the num­ber who voted against it two weeks ago. In the day pre­ced­ing the vote, some 15 peo­ple were killed. But more un­rest won’t de­ter the regime from dis­solv­ing the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture, crack­ing down fur­ther on protesters.

What’s needed is con­certed and sus­tained action. The U.S. has just added Maduro to its list of Venezue­lan of­fi­cials fac­ing sanc­tions, which Mex­ico, Panama and Colom­bia have said they would help en­force. Ar­gentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru are among those who have said they won’t rec­og­nize the re­sults of the vote, which Canada, the United King­dom and the Euro­pean Union have also con­demned.

Venezuela’s neigh­bours should now ex­pel it from the Mer­co­sur trad­ing bloc and re­new their push for con­dem­na­tion by the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States. They should also do more to pub­li­cize what they know about the regime’s ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties — the hun­dreds of mil­lions (if not bil­lions) of dol­lars in assets its mem­bers have ap­pro­pri­ated, its role in drug traf­fick­ing and hu­man smug­gling.

In­evitably, more sanc­tions will have to be put on the ta­ble. But to be ef­fec­tive, they must be as col­lec­tive as pos­si­ble, tar­get in­di­vid­u­als rather than Venezue­lans as a whole, and offer a clear off-ramp. A ban on Venezuela’s oil ex­ports doesn’t pass that test.

The U.S., the EU and Latin Amer­i­can na­tions must also offer or­di­nary Venezue­lans a vi­sion of a bet­ter fu­ture. Pledges of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and as­sis­tance, for ex­am­ple, could help a demo­cratic Venezuela re­cover from its eco­nomic cri­sis, in­clud­ing an in­fla­tion rate near­ing 1,000 per cent. Of­fer­ing such help to a coun­try with the world’s big­gest proven oil re­serves may seem ab­surd. But such are the depths to which Venezuela has sunk un­der Maduro’s in­ept and bru­tal lead­er­ship.

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