President faces flurry of condemnation over Sundays vote as Boris Johnson says we may have to tighten the economic screw
The Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, faced a barrage of international criticism – and the threat of fresh and potentially destabilising economic sanctions – as the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, warned that the international community “may have to tighten the economic screw on Venezuela” after Sunday’s contentious election.
Maduro secured a second six-year term in power on Sunday, shrugging off allegations of vote-buying and electoral fraud to claim what he called a historic, heroic and truly popular victory.
Venezuela’s electoral commission said Maduro, who was first elected in 2013 following the death of his political benefactor, HugoChávez, received more than 5.8m votes compared with the 1.8m of his nearest rival, Henri Falcón. But, in a reflection of Maduro’s deep unpopularity at a time of severe economic turmoil, the official voter turnout was at a historic low of just 46.1%.
Maduro put a positive spin on the vote during a late-night victory address outside the presidential palace, Miraflores, in Caracas, hailing an “impeccable electoral process”.
“The whole of Venezuela has triumphed! Democracy has triumphed! Peace has triumphed! Constitutionality has triumphed!” Maduro shouted, adding: “The revolution is here to stay!”
But on Monday, the 55-year-old faced a wave of domestic and international censure as well as the looming threat of fresh economic sanctions.
Falcón, who on Sunday rejected the “illegitimate” election and called for a fresh vote, tweeted: “We will carry on working so there can be fair elections that will allow us to rescue our country from this totalitarian and wicked government.”
The US vice-president Mike Pence, described the vote as a “sham” which was “neither free nor fair”, while in a separate statement, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said the US “will take swift economic and diplomatic actions to support the restoration of their democracy.”
The 14-nation Lima group of Latin American countries plus Canada said its members did not recognise the election’s legitimacy and would recall their ambassadors from Caracas.
In contrast, Cuba’s Communist party leader, Raúl Castro, sent Maduro the warmest congratulations for his “transcendental victory”. Vladimir Putin also congratulated the Venezuelan leader, but also said he hoped there would be a “national dialogue in the interests of the entire Venezuelan people”.
Speaking in Buenos Aires, where he is attending a meeting of G20 foreign ministers, Johnson said the group would “be talking about what we can do”.
He said: “The feeling I get from talking to my counterparts is that they see no alternative to economic pressure – and it’s very sad because obviously the downside of sanctions is that they can affect the population that you don’t want to suffer. But in the end, as one politician in this area said, things have got to get worse before they get better – and we may have to tighten the economic screw on Venezuela.”
Johnson called Venezuela “an absolutely tragic story of a people kept in hostage to a defunct ideology; a ghastly command economy, state socialism, the entire oil reserves in the hands of the state; the country going to rack and ruin. A humanitarian crisis that’s spilling out into the region.”
The foreign secretary began his five-day visit to South America on Saturday in Peru, which – like other countries in the region including Brazil and Colombia – is now grappling with what experts call the worst migration crisis in recent Latin America history as Venezuelans flee their home. Johnson said: “They’ve got hundreds of thousands of refugees in Peru from Venezuela. They’re having to cope with a humanitarian crisis. They’re having to give them healthcare, they’re finding that in Peru they’re suffering new epidemics because of the condition of the refugees coming from Venezuela.”
Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela expert from the Washington Office on Latin America, said new sanctions targeting Venezuela’s oil sector were very likely in the coming days or weeks. “That is obviously something that is extremely concerning because this is already a country that is in a deep economic crisis and we know that oil sanctions would have an impact on Venezuela’s people,” he said.
While Venezuela’s oil production had fallen under Maduro “the funds from oil exports still account for about 90% of the government’s coffers,” Ramsey said. “That’s money that is used to import food and medicine and it’s obviously badly needed at a time when there is mass scarcity of basic goods and people are dying of preventable diseases because they don’t have access to medication.”
Ramsey criticised Johnson’s “deeply cynical” warning that the situation may have to worsen before it improves. “That is using Venezuela’s populace as a political pressure tool. We’re talking about people that are dying because they can’t have access medicine or basic goods and food. It is deeply cynical to use those people and their suffering in the hope that it might lead to some sort of political transition when that is not even a guarantee.”
Read more: www.theguardian.com