The Trump administration on Monday condemned Venezuelan officials for hosting a “sham” presidential election over the weekend, which President Nicolás Maduro easily won after critics claimed the vote was rigged in his favor.
Although Maduro walked away with a second election victory on Sunday — he first ascended to the presidency in April 2013 — he did so amid extremely low voter turnout and allegations of political intimidation.
“Venezuela’s election was a sham — neither free nor fair. The illegitimate result of this fake process is a further blow to the proud democratic tradition of Venezuela,” Vice President Mike Pence stated Monday afternoon. “Every day, thousands of Venezuelans flee brutal oppression and grinding poverty — literally voting with their feet. The United States will not sit idly by as Venezuela crumbles and the misery of their brave people continues. America stands against dictatorship and with the people of Venezuela.”
Pence also demanded that Maduro “allow humanitarian aid into Venezuela” amid a long-running food shortage affecting millions of people.
“The Maduro regime…must allow its people to be heard,” the vice president stated.
The U.N. Human Rights Council has criticized Maduro for his part in a years-long political crisis, meant to consolidate his power in the region. As the Council on Foreign Relations notes, that power grab has resulted in devastating food and medicine shortages and a bloody crime wave. In response, some people have turned to looting in order to feed themselves and their families.
The move to condemn Venezuela’s election follows Pence’s visit to the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru last month, after President Trump refused to attend. At the time, the administration claimed the president had decided to skip the summit in order to focus on coordinating a response to a suspected chemical attack in Syria, allegedly ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Maduro was not present at the summit, as Peruvian Foreign Minister Cayetana Aljovin had revoked the Venezuelan leader’s invitation months earlier, upon hearing he planned to hold unfair early presidential elections.
At the summit, Pence decried the treatment of Venezuelan citizens and pledged $16 million in humanitarian funding from the State Department and USAID to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, funding meant to assist those who had fled Venezuela for neighboring Colombia and Brazil. He also stated that the United States, under Trump’s leadership, would continue to pressure the Maduro regime through diplomatic and economic sanctions.
But the official White House stance on the Venezuelan victory is somewhat contradictory: In the past, Trump himself has called to congratulate other world leaders, themselves the winners of similar sham elections.
In March, the president called Russian President Vladimir Putin — whose home country is at the center of a massive election interference scandal being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller — to congratulate the authoritarian leader on being reelected to a fourth term. That election was also seen as a “sham,” with incidents of ballot stuffing and polling irregularities peppering the vote. Putin also faced virtually zero opponents, with his one real challenger, Aleksei Navalny, accusing the Russian president of rigging the election.
Trump’s own national security advisers had reportedly warned him specifically ahead of the call, according to the Washington Post, handing him briefing materials with a bold note that read, “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.” As the outlet noted, it appeared Trump had either ignored that advice or had not read the memo at all.
The president later defended his phone call in a series of tweets, writing, “I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also). The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also). The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing…….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2018
Trump also tweeted that the only way to “solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race” was “PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”
In the past, the president has threatened to decimate North Korea with “fire and fury like that world has never seen.
In April, Trump once again ignored the advice of experts, calling Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to offer “sincere congratulations” on the authoritarian leader’s re-election win, in what many have also called a sham election. The Egyptian leader faced no real challengers and walked away with 97 percent of the vote.
As Human Rights Watch notes, al-Sissi has one of the worst human rights records of any world leader, and has overseen the systematic oppression of Egyptian citizens, press, and political dissidents through “torture, arbitrary arrests, and enforced disappearances.”