US urges re­gional lead­ers to iso­late Venezuela’s Maduro

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

LIMA (Reuters) - The United States urged re­gional lead­ers on Satur­day to take stronger steps to iso­late Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro, as it joined a dec­la­ra­tion con­demn­ing the wors­en­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis and po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion in the South Amer­i­can na­tion.

US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence told the Sum­mit of the Amer­i­cas in the Peru­vian cap­i­tal that im­me­di­ate ac­tion was needed as Venezuela gears up for pres­i­den­tial elec­tions on May 20 that have been con­demned by many re­gional lead­ers as a farce to le­git­imize Maduro’s rule.

For the first time, the United States backed a state­ment by heads of state from the Lima Group of na­tions - es­tab­lished last year to seek a peace­ful end to Venezuela’s po­lit­i­cal turmoil - which called on Maduro to re­lease po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers and hold free elec­tions.

De­spite an eco­nomic col­lapse that has driven an es­ti­mated 3 mil­lion peo­ple to flee his once-pros­per­ous OPEC na­tion, Maduro is ex­pected to win next month’s poll.

Venezuela’s two most pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion lead­ers are banned from com­pet­ing and elec­toral au­thor­i­ties are stacked with gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers.

“The United States of Amer­ica will not stand idly by as Venezuela crum­bles,” Pence said in a speech. “Ev­ery free na­tion gath­ered here must take stronger ac­tion to iso­late the Maduro regime. We must all stand with our broth­ers and sisters suf­fer­ing in Venezuela.”

The state­ment by the Lima Group voiced alarm at an ex­o­dus of mi­grants from Venezuela and urged gov­ern­ments to in­ten­sify ac­tions aimed at restor­ing democ­racy.

Wash­ing­ton has al­ready tar­geted se­nior mem­bers of Maduro’s ad­min­is­tra­tion with sanc­tions due to ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion and rights abuses.

For­mer US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son raised the prospect in Fe­bru­ary that this could be broad­ened to re­strict Venezuela’s ex­ports of crude oil and its im­ports of US re­fined prod­ucts.

Neigh­bour­ing coun­tries’ frus­tra­tion with Maduro’s so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment has been stoked by the ar­rival of thou­sands of hun­gry mi­grants across the bor­der into Colom­bia and Brazil ev­ery day.

Call for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid

The joint state­ment called on in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions to of­fer sup­port to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries to cope with the ar­rivals and for Maduro to al­low ac­cess for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to his na­tion of 30 mil­lion peo­ple - some­thing he has re­fused to do, deny­ing there is a cri­sis.

“To have in Maduro a leader that will not al­low hu­man­i­tar­ian aid into his own coun­try as peo­ple are starv­ing and peo­ple are dy­ing is un­con­scionable,” Pence said.

Ad­dress­ing red-shirted sup­port­ers at an “anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist” rally in Cara­cas, Maduro branded the meet­ing in Lima as “a com­plete fail­ure” and said Latin Amer­i­can pres­i­dents were wast­ing their time crit­i­ciz­ing him.

Maduro was banned from the Lima gath­er­ing due to re­gional cen­sure of his demo­cratic record.

Host­ing the sum­mit, Peru has sought the broad­est pos­si­ble sup­port for the doc­u­ment from gov­ern­ments out­side the 14na­tion Lima Group - which in­cludes re­gional heavy­weights such as Brazil, Mex­ico and Canada but not the United States. Mike Pence ad­dresses a news con­fer­ence at the Sum­mit of the Amer­i­cas in Lima, Peru yes­ter­day.

How­ever, ef­forts to build mo­men­tum be­hind the state­ment were hit by the last­minute can­cel­la­tion of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s at­ten­dance.

In the end, the state­ment was signed by 16 na­tions, fewer than half of the 35 coun­tries that are mem­bers of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States (OAS).

Pre­vi­ous ef­forts to build con­sen­sus be­hind strongly worded con­dem­na­tions of Venezuela at the OAS have run into re­sis­tance not just from Cara­cas’ left-lean­ing al­lies such as Cuba and Bo­livia, but Caribbean na­tions that have ben­e­fited from Venezuela’s sub­si­dized oil pro­gram­mers.

The of­fi­cial theme of the Lima sum­mit was the fight against cor­rup­tion and lead­ers agreed a state­ment call­ing for im­prove­ments in trans­parency of pub­lic ten­ders, more in­de­pen­dent and ac­count­able ju­di­cia­ries and stronger in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion on money laun­der­ing.

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