Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decried Sunday's elections as 'unfair' and 'unfree,' and seemed to threaten economic sanctions on the Venezuelan government.
UNITED NATIONS — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro won another six-year term on Sunday, in a presidential vote characterized by low turnout and widely condemned by the international community.
Maduro carried the day with 68 percent of the vote — a figure he cited as a sign of his popularity — but the field was tipped in his favor. Venezuela’s opposition formally sat out the election and called on supporters to boycott the vote after its two most popular leaders, Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles, were banned from competing.
Despite his victory, Maduro finds himself in a challenging situation, with Venezuela beset by high unemployment, inflation and food shortages, prompting hundreds of thousands to flee the country.
But in today’s Venezuela, even Maduro’s poor record in office is not likely to see him overthrown and the country’s opposition thrust into power anytime soon, said Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.
“People have been saying this for the last six years already. This has sort of been the running assumption — that this can’t continue, that this is unsustainable, and that this government will ultimately collapse — but what we’re seeing is that the Maduro government has withstood everything the international community has thrown at it. And they see this as a period where they’ve got to hunker down and get through.”
As with previous elections held under Maduro’s leadership, foreign countries were quick to condemn Sunday’s vote, and the likes of the European Union and the 15-member Lima Group — which includes countries from across the Americas and Caribbean — pledged to scale back diplomatic engagement with Venezuela over the handling of the election.
The U.S. went a step further, and appeared to threaten further sanctions on Venezuela that could further hamper the government’s ability to transact business in global financial markets. “The United States stands with democratic nations in support of the Venezuelan people and will take swift economic and diplomatic actions to support the restoration of their democracy,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in a statement.
Pompeo’s threat of economic coercion targeting the Venezuelan government fits into a broader belief within the Trump administration that tough sanctions ultimately brought Iran — and now North Korea — to heel, but Ramsey said sanctions on Venezuela are liable to have unintended consequences.
“I think the U.S. is likely to impose some kind of oil sanctions on Venezuela,” he said, noting other that other sanctions could limit the Venezuelan government’s ability to take out loans within the global financial sector.
“I think all of that is going to have a deep impact ultimately on the Venezuelan people,” he said.
“It’s really concerning to hear people talk about these economic sanctions like they’re some sort of silver bullet that will lead to the overthrow of this government. Everything we’ve seen so far suggests they’re incredibly capable of staying in power despite international pressure.”
Instead or relying solely on sanctions pressure, Ramsey said countries should strike a balance between pressuring the Venezuelan government on key issues like human rights while trying to broker talks between the Maduro government and Venezuela’s political opposition.
“The role of the international community should be that, while ensuring that there is no blanket amnesty for the kinds of human rights violations that we’ve seen over the last several years, trying to find the kinds of guarantees and conditions that the government will accept in order to cede power.”