Washington is hardening its approach to the crisis enveloping Venezuela. With strong Congressional support on a bipartisan basis, the Trump Administration has declared the Venezuelan Vice President to be a narcotics trafficking kingpin, sanctioned members of the Supreme Court, and met in solidarity with leading opposition figures. Further steps may well be under consideration, particularly if the regime of Nicolas Maduro continues to deny basic civil liberties to its people. Speaking in Miami at a June 15, 2017 conference on Central America, U.S. Vice President Pence called on the hemispheric community to move quickly to condemn the Venezuelan government for its “abuse of power,” arguing that democracy has been undermined by the government.
Venezuela’s worsening crisis intensified beginning at the end of March, when the Supreme Court at the government’s behest attempted to nullify the democratically-elected legislature as an independent body. After a huge domestic and international outcry, the government partially reversed the decision, but the true authoritarian nature of the regime was fully revealed and the damage was done. Massive, sustained street protests erupted and have continued since then, to which the government has reacted violently. Almost 70 people have now been killed, with no end in sight.
Rather than heeding the call of the Venezuelan people for more democracy not less, the government of Nicolas Maduro has doubled down, hastening its trajectory toward full dictatorship. The government has called for a constituent assembly at the end of July to rewrite the 1999 constitution, providing greater freedom of action and, presumably, allowing the government-dominated and -directed assembly to rewrite permanently the rules of Venezuelan governance eliminating the last vestiges of democracy and turning the nation, after Cuba, into the second fully totalitarian state in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, the economy continues to contract, crime is out of control, and food and medical supplies are increasingly unreliable. The death toll from government repression, common crime, starvation, and otherwise-preventable medical conditions continues to climb….