Maduro is consolidating power in Venezuela. The international community must intervene. – USA TODAY

Paula Garcia Tufro, Opinion contributor Published 7:00 a.m. ET Nov. 26, 2018

The international community must take action, as Nicolás Maduro robs Venezuelans of medicine, food and fair elections.

Venezuela’s collapse over the past few years has shocked the world, terrorized a population, and destabilized a region. Nicolás Maduro’s slide into autocratic rule has shown us firsthand how a democratically elected leader can dismantle democracy itself. But in just a few weeks, on Jan. 10, Maduro’s regime will lose its last remaining veneer — however thin it may be — of legitimacy.

From that date on, he will no longer be the democratically elected leader of Venezuela, and the international community will have the chance to add new momentum to its long-running pressure campaign.

Elected in 2013 in a contested — but ultimately recognized — election, Maduro has spent his six-year term dismantling Venezuela’s institutions and plunging the country into an unmitigated humanitarian catastrophe.

While his presidency is slated to end on Jan. 10, Maduro will be “re-inaugurated” that day on the basis of elections held last May, which were widely recognized as fraudulent. The United States, Canada, the European Union, the Group of Seven industrialized nations, and the Lima Group of Latin American democracies have already rejected that vote and refused to recognize its results. On Jan. 10, they’ll have the opportunity to back that up with concrete action.

International community is ready to act against Venezuela

There have already been rumblings. Spain’s foreign minister has warned that Maduro’s “democratic legitimacy ends on Jan. 10,” and the Lima Group has called for two meetings by the end of year to deliberate on a precise plan of action.

Moises Rendon, of the the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has outlined concrete measures the democratic world can take, including expulsion of ambassadors, prohibition of any international dealings with Maduro’s regime, and formal, exclusive recognition of Venezuela’s defanged National Assembly and exiled Supreme Court.

Whatever battle plan is decided upon, full buy-in from liberal democracies across the world will be imperative. Because if one thing is clear, it’s that inaction is no longer an option. The Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center recently released results of a poll conducted on the ground in Venezuela. The responses reveal a country on the absolute brink.

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Nearly 80 percent of Venezuelans say the country is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. More than half report their quality of life further deteriorating in the past year — from an already dismal level 12 months ago.

The exodus of migrants and refugees — which the United Nations’ latest report says has now surpassed 3 million — has utterly overwhelmed neighboring countries, with Colombia having taken in more than 1 million Venezuelans to date. And our findings suggest those outflows are only set to increase, further straining regional stability.

More than 90 percent of Venezuelans say the country’s medicine supply is inadequate, and 85 percent report not having enough food. The population is reaching an unimaginable level of desperation, and leaving is increasingly seen as a means of survival.

Nearly two-thirds of the country place the blame for Venezuela’s astronomical inflation — projected to top 1 million percent this year — on Maduro and expect the government’s latest economic measures to yield no improvement. A majority of Venezuelans, including a majority of independents, agree that no solution to the economic crisis will be possible while Maduro continues in power.

We can’t let Jan. 10 pass without consequence

But with every indication that he will remain after his term ends, the international community cannot let Jan. 10 pass without consequence. Venezuela’s beleaguered opposition is already organizing to advance a shared vision for the future, but years of constant battering from the government means they’ll need help from the international community.

The Lima Group has shown it is willing to take the lead. The international community should seize this opportunity to stand with the Venezuelan people, united in its call for a political solution to the crisis in Venezuela. As Maduro prepares to transition from elected autocrat to unelected dictator, and the threats to regional stability grow, the world’s response must be loud, unambiguous and impactful.

The people of Venezuela and the region can’t afford anything less.

Paula Garcia Tufro is the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, which recently released findings from its on-the-ground poll in Venezuela. 

 

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