Latin American Leaders Recall Ambassadors To Venezuela Over Election Results

Nicolas Maduro was re-elected as President of Venezuela on Sunday after an election surrounded by controversy. The election was marred by low turnout, a boycott by the main opposition, and allegations from rival candidates of voting irregularities. The Lima Group, a body consisting of  Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Saint Lucia, had been monitoring the political crisis in Venezuela. The group has said that its 14 members would recall their ambassadors to protest against “Venezuela’s failure to hold a free and fair election.” In a statement issued on Monday, the Lima Group said that the members’ representatives in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, would return to their respective countries for consultations. The statement also said members summoned Venezuelan ambassadors to their countries and decided to downgrade diplomatic relations with Maduro’s government.

Aside from the Lima Group, U.S President Donald Trump took action on Monday, as he signed an executive order that attempts to protect public assets. “We call for the Maduro regime to restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression and economic deprivation of the Venezuelan people,” Trump said in a statement.

Maduro won 5.8 million votes during Sunday’s election, 4 million more than his closest opposition, Henri Falcon. Falcon ran as an independent candidate. After the election, Falcon called for a new vote, alleging the election was illegitimate. “We do not recognize this electoral process as valid. There must be new elections in Venezuela,” Falcon told a local news source. Claudio Fermin, Falcon’s campaign chief, said they documented over 900 cases of widespread voting irregularities.

But Maduro hailed his win as a victory against “imperialism,” accusing rivals of “underestimating” him. He boasted that a presidential candidate had “never before… taken 68 percent of the popular vote.”

“We are the force of history turned into a permanent popular victory,” he said on Sunday evening, following the announcement of results.

About 20 million people were eligible to participate in the ballot, but only around 9 million people showed up to the polls. That put turnout at about 46%, according to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), significantly lower than in the 2013 presidential elections when it was 80%.

Sunday’s vote came against the backdrop of a political and financial crisis in Venezuela, with over 100 people killed in protests during 2017 along with growing discontent over hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages. In its statement, the Lima Group said Venezuela’s electoral process had not complied with “international standards” and expressed concern over the “deepening political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis” unfolding in the country. “[This crisis] is reflected in the massive migration of Venezuelans who arrive in our countries in difficult conditions and in the loss of democratic institutions, the rule of law and the lack of guarantees and political freedoms of citizens,” the group’s statement said.

With the Lima Group recalling its ambassadors after this election, the 14 countries have shown Venezuela they will not stand for corrupt elections. But pulling out ambassadors can only do so much harm to Maduro’s government and is not productive in fixing the cycle of voting irregularities, boycotts, and low turnouts. When the ambassadors return from their countries following consultations, they should focus on reforming the lives of the citizens of Venezuela who are unfairly affected by Maduro’s government, amongst the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country. The ambassadors could focus on advocating for change that would improve the food and medicine shortages, along with letting Venezuela’s current government know that the Lima Group will be educating voters and encouraging turnout for the country’s next election so the cycle of illegitimate elections can be interrupted and stopped for good.

Hallie Kielb