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Sun, 17 Nov 2019 16:58 GMT

US Increases Pressure on “illegitimate” Venezuelan Government


Benjamin Schmidt

Fri, 11 Jan 2019 13:42 GMT

An economy half the size it was five years ago. Oil production at its lowest levels in seven decades. Inflation of 10 million % in 2019 predicted by the International Monetary Fund. This is the Venezuela governed by President Nicolas Maduro, who was inaugurated for a second six-year term on January 10th, after winning an election widely considered a sham in May 2018.

Before the inauguration, United States officials announced that they would not recognise Mr Maduro's presidency and urged Venezuelan government employees to support the opposition.

"The US will not recognise the Maduro dictatorship's illegitimate inauguration," national security advisor John Bolton tweeted. "We will continue to increase pressure on the corrupt regime, support the democratic National Assembly and call for democracy and freedom in Venezuela," he wrote.

Once considered the wealthiest country in South America, Venezuela’s fortunes have nose-dived at an alarming rate. Hyperinflation, the collapse of the country’s health system and the widespread lack of even basic necessities have led to an unprecedented exodus to neighbouring countries.

According to the United Nations migration agency, more than three million people have fled Venezuela since 2014, causing a regional crisis and stoking tensions with neighbouring Brazil. At the same time, government crackdowns on opponents have been severe. Human Rights Watch says it has documented hundreds of cases of mistreatment of government opponents since 2014, including at least 31 cases of torture.

Some neighbours, including the United States, have considered policies to remove President Maduro, who has been in power since the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013. US President Donald Trump has publicly mused about taking military action against the Maduro government. The US has already imposed sanctions on oil and gold. On January 8th, US officials announced additional sanctions targeting seven Venezuelans allegedly involved in black-market currency exchanges that generated billions of dollars in illicit profits.

In a statement released on January 10th, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Venezuelans to work not with Maduro but with the National Assembly. The legislative body is currently controlled by the opposition but has been sidelined by a new Constituent Assembly created by Maduro's government. "We urge those who support this regime, from everyday employees getting by on food subsidies to the Venezuelan security forces sworn to support the constitution, to stop enabling repression and corruption," Pompeo said in a statement. "The Venezuelan people and the international community will remember and judge your actions. Now is the time to convince the Maduro dictatorship that the moment has arrived for democracy to return to Venezuela," he continued.

"The Secretary reinforced the US commitment to the National Assembly, the only legitimate and last democratically elected institution in Venezuela, and the re-establishment of democracy in Venezuela," spokesperson Robert Palladino added, according to the New York Times.

The Lima Group - a bloc of 14 Latin American powers and Canada - urged Maduro to resign from office and hand over power to parliament, although Mexico's new, leftist government stayed neutral.

Unlike most Latin American leaders, Mexican President, Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, has taken a friendlier stance toward Venezuela, including inviting Mr Maduro to his inauguration. President Evo Morales of Bolivia, who also a socialist, is also a supporter of Maduro and attended the inauguration.

Outside of Latin America, Venezuela’s biggest support has come from Russia and China. A $5 billion loan secured from China after Mr Maduro visited Beijing in September has been a lifeline for the regime. In addition, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his support for Mr Maduro in a December meeting in Moscow, a year after Russia agreed to restructure $3 billion in loans to prevent a Venezuelan default.

Latin America