- - Monday, May 21, 2018

Buenos Aires | Top diplomats from the United States and five allied nations slammed Venezuela’s presidential vote as “illegitimate,” vowing Monday to step up the pressure on a defiant Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and open up a humanitarian corridor to aid the Venezuelan people facing an economic crisis and the collapse of social services.

The diplomats spoke on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit here even as President Trump in Washington was signing an executive order limiting fire-sales of Venezuelan assets — including money from oil sales — expected to further pressure a cash-strapped Mr. Maduro. Members of the informal Lima Group, which includes Canada, Mexico and a dozen South and Central American nations, on Monday said they were recalling their remaining ambassadors from Caracas for consultations amid reports of voter fraud and a boycott of Sunday’s vote by Venezuela’s opposition.

“Considering the lack of legitimacy of the electoral process, we will not recognize the results of the election,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan and the foreign ministers of Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico said in a tersely worded joint statement distributed on the sidelines of a summit of developed and developing nations here.

In Washington, Vice President Mike Pence called the Venezuelan vote a “sham — neither free nor fair.” The U.S. “will not sit idly by as Venezuela crumbles and the misery of their brave people continues,” he added.

With just one independent candidate still on the ballot, Venezuela’s official election results released Monday gave Mr. Maduro a larger percentage of the vote than any other candidate running for head of state since 1958. But the low turnout of 46 percent — barely half of the previous turnout — meant the socialist president actually received fewer votes than when he won for the first time in 2013.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, the host of Monday’s G-20 summit, accused Mr. Maduro of having created a political and economic crisis that represents “a threat for regional security in health, migration, food, social and educational terms.”

“The deterioration that is the reality today in Venezuela accentuates the need for all countries who share the view of a lack of democracy in Venezuela to keep up [pressure] so that Maduro’s regime finally changes,” Mr. Faurie told The Washington Times. “It’s a long road, but we have to persist.”

The Trump administration is reportedly weighing a full-blown oil embargo against the Maduro regime, a punitive move Mr. Faurie signaled the Lima Group might welcome.

“The oil trade between the United States and Venezuela is a highly important element in whatever income Venezuela can muster,” he said. “It forms part of a package of measures [we] are analyzing in as a group of counties.”

Venezuela’s chronic food and drug shortages are now threatening public health elsewhere, officials here said, while otherwise preventable animal diseases making a comeback inside Venezuela now threaten its neighbors’ agricultural output.

“We have an impact of singular magnitude in terms of illnesses that begin to disseminate across the contact given that Venezuelans are without medicine and without food,” said the Argentine foreign minister.

While the Venezuelan vote was not on the G-20 official agenda, Mr. Maduro did not find a single backer among the diplomats representing 19 major industrialized nations, the European Union, and invited countries such as Chile, Spain and the Netherlands.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok, noting that his nation’s Caribbean possessions technically make Venezuela its largest neighbor, told the Times that he has discussed with local authorities in Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao the prospect of an overwhelming wave of migrants as Venezuela implodes.

“I do realize the threat to those small islands of a possible influx of a large number of Venezuelans,” Mr. Blok said. “There are Venezuelans coming in now, but large numbers would be very hard to support for them.”

Inside Venezuela, opposition groups said Monday there was little sign early on that the boycott was hampering the bid by Mr. Maduro, a protege of the late anti-U.S. populist Hugo Chavez, to claim another six-year term in office.

In one minor protest Monday, 30 opposition activists marched onto a major highway that a year ago was filled with tens of thousands of anti-government protesters, The Associated Press reported. They unfurled a giant Venezuelan flag shouting, “This was a farce — not an election.” Then they rolled up the flag and dispersed. It lasted 10 minutes.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.


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