Latin America condemns Caracas, avoids sanctions
Lima, 15 April (Argus) — Countries across the Americas, from Canada to Argentina, wrapped up the Summit of the Americas yesterday with broad condemnation of the Venezuelan government. But the initiative fell short of the concrete actions that Venezuela's opposition leaders had been hoping for.
Leaders took turns during their presentations at the hemispheric summit, the eighth since 1994, demanding that Venezuela's autocratic president Nicolas Maduro allow in humanitarian aid and establish free and fair elections.
The Opec country, which relies on oil exports for nearly all of its revenue, is mired in hyperinflation and severe shortages of food, medicine and fuel.
Maduro is running for another six-year term on 20 May in an election widely seen as fraudulent. Most opposition leaders have been banned from running, are in prison or have fled in a migratory wave numbering an estimated one million Venezuelans over the past year, mostly to neighboring Colombia as well as Brazil.
US Vice President Mike Pence called Venezuela a "failed state".
"In Venezuela, as in Cuba, the tragedy of tyranny is on full display. Venezuela was one of our hemisphere's richest nations once, but it is now one of the poorest. The responsibility for the Venezuelan people's suffering can be laid at the feet of one man, Nicolas Maduro," he said.
Pence, stepping in for President Donald Trump who stayed in Washington to deal with Syria, culminated a long list of leaders taking aim at Maduro and the Venezuelan debacle.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said the Venezuela crisis is "not only a problem for Venezuela, but for all of us." Pinera and his Argentinian counterpart Mauricio Macri said Maduro must recognize the humanitarian crisis and accept aid, a position echoed by
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The presidents of Argentina, Colombia and Chile said they would not recognize the results of next month's elections. "Argentina is not going to recognize the result of an election of this kind. This is not a democratic election," said Macri.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela told Argus that his country is working with others in the region to develop a consensus response.
Breaking with its fellow Latin American countries, Panama decided last month to warn its financial institutions to avoid senior Venezuelan officials and companies at "high risk" for money laundering, an initiative that led to a tit-for-tat with Caracas. One consequence was Venezuela's decision to ban Panama's Copa Airlines, which had been one of the few carriers that still provide flight service to and from the oil-producing country.
"Venezuela reacted with sanctions that hurt its own people," said Varela.
He said Panama is working with the Group of Lima, which includes 14 countries pressing for change in Venezuela. "We are working on trying to convince the Venezuelan leaders that the 20 May elections will only deepen the humanitarian, social, economic and political crisis."
The US, the EU and Canada maintain targeted sanctions on senior Venezuelan officials, and Washington added financial sanctions on Venezuela in August 2017. But beyond Panama's recent action, other Latin American countries have steered clear of sanctions.
US Senator Marco Rubio told reporters at the summit that there was "support in a large number of countries for measures to restore democracy and constitutional order in Venezuela."
Venezuela opposition figures in attendance pressed Pence and other leaders for more sanctions. The exiled former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma called for humanitarian "intervention", an expansion of targeted sanctions, and the seizure of assets and capital "stolen from Venezuela".
Maduro, who was disinvited from the summit and canceled a defiant plan to attend anyway, received support from vocal allies Cuba and Bolivia as well as several Caribbean countries that still receive dwindling subsidized oil from Venezuela. Only four of the 15 heads of state from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) participated.
St Vincent and Grenadines finance minister Camilo Gonsalves criticized Peru's decision to exclude Maduro from the summit. He said the decision did not "respect the right of the accused to be present and respond to accusations."
The summit's main theme was the need to tackle corruption in the wake of a region-wide bribery scandal anchored on Brazilian contractor Odebrecht. The imbroglio forced former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to resign late last month.
The summit was partially overshadowed by the kidnapping and murder of an Ecuadoran reporting team in the lawless border area between Ecuador and Colombia. The two countries blame dissidents of Colombian former guerrilla group Farc that are dedicated to drugs trafficking, and have pledged to take joint action to take out the perpetrators of the crime.