, LIMA, Peru, Apr 15 – The United States and more than a dozen Latin American countries on Saturday 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 United States is prepared to continue to bring all pressure to bear, working with our allies,” to restore democracy in Venezuela, he told reporters.
– Maduro not invited –
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 is also part of the group.
The statement demanded “necessary guarantees” for the Venezuelan poll to be recognized: 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 United States of helping Venezuela’s opposition to undermine his authority by waging what he calls an economic “war.”
The United States 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 in its jaws.
Pence in Lima said as he met several Venezuelan opposition figures on Friday 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 concerning the UN.
The International Organization for Migration says nearly one million Venezuelans have left the country over the past two years. Many head to Brazil, Colombia and Panama, and often beyond.
– Corruption fight –
The Summit of the Americas also took aim at corruption, a scourge that has destabilized politics in several Latin American countries over the past couple of years.
The gathering adopted a Lima Commitment on “Democratic Governability Against Corruption” aimed at vanquishing graft by encouraging steps to prevent bribery of public officials, holding companies responsible for acts of corruption, and demanding greater transparency for the financing of political parties and campaigns.
The declaration was issued after a run of several spectacular corruption scandals. One forced Peru’s previous president to resign three weeks ago, another saw the jailing of Brazil’s former president a week ago, and there is increased scrutiny on Guatemala’s current president by a UN-backed body.
The region remains under a cloud of malaise linked to a massive political bribery scheme with the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht at the center.
There has also been the Panama Papers scandal, and US sanctions on powerful family businesses in Central America allegedly linked to drug trafficking.
“The fact that after several summits, in this one we have a consensus document worked out by the foreign ministers is a signal of the efforts and search for common ground by us, the countries of the Americas,” Peru’s new President Martin Vizcarra told the summit.