Nicolás Maduro is facing international backlash after his election victory in Venezuela on Sunday, with more than a dozen countries withdrawing their ambassadors and the United States preparing a fresh wave of sanctions.
Maduro won Sunday’s election in a landslide, with nearly 70 percent of the vote compared to only 21.2 percent from the main opposition candidate, Henri Falcón. However, the election was marred by extremely low turnout — less than half of Venezuelans voted — and allegations of voter intimidation. One viral video shows Maduro waving to an empty plaza to celebrate his electoral victory.
Maduro victoriously waving to an empty plaza yesterday is the perfect metaphor for the Venezuelan presidential election. His new term ends in 2025. pic.twitter.com/UO8Iwugki3
— Hannah Dreier (@hannahdreier) May 21, 2018
In response to Maduro’s victory, a block of 14 American nations, including Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and Peru, said they’d recall their ambassadors in protest of Venezuela’s refusal to hold free and fair elections.
“We reiterate our profound worry over the political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis, which is deteriorating life in Venezuela,” the Lima Group said in a statement. “This is reflected in the massive migration of Venezuelans who come to our countries in difficult circumstances and in the loss of democratic institutions, rights and political freedoms for Venezuelan citizens.”
The anger and apathy over the election isn’t limited to political leaders either. Since Sunday’s election, migration from Venezuela has picked up, with Venezuelans queuing up to spend more than a month’s wages on bus tickets out of the country. According to the United Nations, more than a million Venezuelans left the country between 2015 and 2017.
On Monday, meanwhile, the United States announced new sanctions targeting Venezuela. The sanctions bar U.S. companies and individuals from buying debt or accounts receivable from the Venezuelan government, which officials say is an avenue for corruption used by senior Venezuelan leaders to enrich themselves.
“Venezuela’s election was a sham — neither free nor fair,” Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday. “The illegitimate result of this fake process is a further blow to the proud democratic tradition of Venezuela. Every day, thousands of Venezuelans flee brutal oppression and grinding poverty — literally voting with their feet.”
While the Trump administration may be eager to criticize the sham elections in Venezuela, it’s congratulated plenty of autocrats in the past. In March, the Washington Post reported that Trump specifically ignored the advice of his national security advisers — including a note that read “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” — and congratulated autocrat Vladimir Putin on his electoral victory.
Venezuela has been in economic free-fall since 2013, when Maduro took over power from Hugo Chávez. The former president had used Venezuela’s substantial oil wealth to finance lavish social programs, but the collapse of oil prices coupled with hyperinflation and a series of failed economic policies has left the country facing essential shortages in areas like food and medical supplies.