The European Union is the latest entity to call for sanctions against Venezuela after concerns about the legitimacy of the country’s recent presidential elections. The EU also called for new elections to take place, as the polls in May which reelected President Nicolas Maduro allegedly suffered from low voter turnout, banning of major opposition leaders, and other allegations of irregularities.
The European Union chose to impose the sanctions because they questioned the vote, claiming it “lacked any credibility as the electoral process did not ensure the necessary guarantees for inclusive and democratic elections.” Maduro pushed back on the sanctions, saying that the bloc should stay out of his country’s business, stating “enough of this old colonialism.”
The Lima Group, a coalition of 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Venezuela’s largest neighbors of Brazil and Colombia, as well as Canada, is devoted to addressing the Venezuelan crisis. The Group issued a statement that they “did not recognize the legitimacy of the electoral process,” and questioned if the election “met with the international standards of a democratic, free, just and transparent electoral process.” Lima Group-member Mexico went so far as to recall its ambassador in Caracas and reduce relations.
Prior to these elections, many in the international community warned the Venezuelan government to maintain democracy and rule of law, but Maduro has chosen to defy these calls with some saying he is moving towards autocratic rule. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who faces similar anti-democratic critiques, declared on Venezuelan television that he believed Maduro would be “triumphant.”
Maduro criticized the sanctions, claiming that “they generate suffering for the people of Venezuela.” However, the European Union sanctions and travel bans will only target key government officials in order to “not harm the Venezuelan population, whose plight the EU wishes to alleviate.”
Venezuela currently faces a massive economic crisis mainly due to corruption and price controls. It also has the largest oil reserves in the world, which has led to an economic and political system that revolves around petroleum. This has not only created a large class divide, but also a culture of consumption and corruption highlighted in a local proverb “for my friends, anything; for my enemies, the law.”
In order to protect the local economy, the government of deceased President Hugo Chávez imposed currency controls to keep money in the country. The government imposed further controls to maintain food affordability, setting prices below production costs without subsidizing them, forcing many food producers to go out of business, leading to mass shortages. The country is currently in a crisis with 87% of the population living in poverty and surveys showing many Venezuelans have lost 11 kilograms, or around 24 pounds, in the past year. The government has tried to mitigate these food shortages by proposing Venezuelans eat rabbit meat and promoting urban farming, but this has received popular criticism and failed to make much of a difference. There have been many accounts of lootings as many Venezuelans are desperate for nutrition.
The food shortages, hyperinflation, and desperately low wages have pushed more than half a million Venezuelans to cross the border to Colombia. Upon arrival, many part with their jewelry, including sentimental items like wedding rings, in order to obtain cash. There are even dealers who buy hair from cash-seeking Venezuelan migrants to produce hair extensions. The Colombian President has called for assistance to deal with this massive influx of migrants. In order to manage the flow, the Colombian government has also announced stricter border controls.
The Lima Group, supported by the US, EU, and the Venezuelan opposition, has critiqued the deterioration of democracy in Venezuela. Canada, part of the Lima Group, has sent humanitarian assistance, including food aid, to respond to the crisis. Most of this has gone to Venezuelans seeking refuge in Colombia due to the Venezuelan government’s refusal to accept assistance on ideological grounds, claiming that they are victims of an “economic war” instigated by “imperialists,” namely, the United States. The Lima Group should seek dialogue with Maduro’s government and the opposition in order to find a political solution acceptable to the Venezuelan people. More immediately, the international community must prioritize sending emergency food aid to feed the Venezuelan people. International actors should further support Colombia in housing, feeding, and caring for the massive number of Venezuelans crossing its borders.