Diplomats from a dozen Latin American countries and Canada have urged Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to abstain from being sworn in for a second term after a widely criticised election, saying it is the only way to restore democracy to the country.
The Lima Group, which includes Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, issued a joint statement on Friday calling on Maduro to cede power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly until new elections can be held, following a meeting in the Peruvian capital.
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Thirteen of the group’s members will not recognise Maduro’s new term and will also bar high-ranking Venezuelan officials from entering their territory as much as their domestic laws allow, the statement said.
The strong rebuke comes just days before his January 10 inauguration to a second six-year term.
Mexico, once one of the most outspoken critics of Maduro, was the only member of the coalition to abstain from the vote.
Relations have warmed under leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who faced criticism for inviting Maduro to his inauguration in December.
Even before announcing its decision, the gathering prompted a sharp response from Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who said the coalition is taking orders directly from US President Donald Trump, who Caracas frequently accuses of spearheading an economic war against the country.
“What a display of humiliating subordination!” Arreaza said on Twitter.
Lo que hemos afirmando desde la creación de este grupo de gobiernos cartelizados contra Venezuela, al que en teoría no pertenece el gobierno de EEUU: se reúnen para recibir ordenes de @realDonaldTrump por intermedio de @SecPompeo. ¡Vaya muestra de humillante subordinación! https://t.co/Mcw9MLjWkv
— Jorge Arreaza M (@jaarreaza) January 4, 2019
TRANSLATION: What we have stated since the creation of this group of governments cartelised against Venezuela, which in theory is not linked with the US government: They meet to receive Donald Trump’s orders through Secretary Pompeo. What a display of humiliating subordination!
A once-wealthy oil producer, Venezuela is suffering a prolonged economic crisis with severe food and medicine shortages and the inflation rate soaring higher than one million percent, according to the IMF.
The Lima Group formed in 2017 to advocate for a regional solution to the crisis, which has caused millions of Venezuelans to flee into neighbouring countries.
Immediately following Maduro’s May 20 re-election, the coalition said it refused to recognise the results, decrying the vote as failing to meet “international standards of a democratic, free, just and transparent process”.
The United States is not formally a member of the Lima Group, but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in the meeting via video conference.
The Trump administration considers Maduro’s government a “dictatorship”. It has sanctioned around 70 top officials and blocked US banks from doing business with Venezuela, putting a financial stranglehold on the cash-strapped country.