The head of the Organization of American States has criticized negotiations between the Venezuelan government and its opposition and warned that presidential elections run by the Nicolás Maduro “dictatorship” would only give it six more years in power.
“No election that comes out of this dictatorship, under these conditions, will bring a political change for the people of Venezuela,” OAS chief Luis Almagro told a gathering of Venezuelans in Doral on Saturday.
“There is no worse sanction that can be applied to the Venezuelan people than six more years of the Maduro regime. That’s the way it is, definitely,” Almagro told the group, organized by the International Coalition for Venezuela.
The head of the OAS, the top organization for North, Central and South America and the Caribbean, did not directly mention the opposition parties negotiating with the Maduro government in the Dominican Republic.
But his words were clearly a harsh criticism of the opposition leaders at the talks, which have included negotiations on conditions for the next presidential elections.
The Maduro government has proposed allowing the opposition to take part in the elections if it accepts the legitimacy of the controversial National Constituent Assembly and promises to lobby for lifting the many foreign sanctions on the Maduro regime.
Many observers believe Maduro is not willing to leave power, however, and will manipulate elections through his control of the National Electoral Council in order to make sure he wins.
Almagro emphasized during his speech in Doral that hopes for an electoral solution to the Venezuelan crisis are not only misguided but could lead to even more suffering for the country’s people.
“This suffering by the people, this lack of economic, social, political and civil rights suffered by the Venezuelan people” would go on for another six-year presidential term, he said, “which would mean perpetuating the political prisoners, perpetuating the extrajudicial executions, perpetuating the total crushing of the people’s rights.”
“We must eradicate the political shortcuts, the long pace of diplomacy,” he said. “We have no time for rhetoric. We have no time for short and weak steps. We have no time to move away from principles. We don’t have the space to validate an election that will be totally spurious and will only secure six more years for Maduro.”
The OAS secretary general, who issued a report in 2016 declaring the Maduro had formally installed a dictatorship in Venezuela, was careful to avoid criticizing the decision of the opposition parties to negotiate with the regime.
But others in the audience lashed out at the negotiators.
Carlos Ortega, an opposition activist exiled in Peru, accused prominent sectors of the opposition of betraying the cause with false statements in order to later work behind the scenes to oppose international assistance for democracy in Venezuela.
“Our friend Almagro, as a secretary general of the OAS, has been betrayed by these derelict and delinquent Venezuelan politicians who claim to be the opposition but are big allies of this dictatorship,” said Ortega, a labor leader who played a key role in 2002 protests against then-President Hugo Chávez that led to a coup attempt.
Former Senator Pablo Medina, a founder of the International Coalition for Venezuela, invited Almagro to the Doral event as part of its efforts to assist refugee camps in Colombia and Brazil for the many Venezuelans leaving their country daily to escape its famine.
Those tent camps already exist but require formal recognition in order to start arranging international assistance, Medina said.
No one wants to live in a tent, feel the cold of Colombia’s Andes mountains or cross Brazil’s dangerous jungle, or carry a child after the father faints from malnutrition on the way to a refugee camp, he added.
But that is precisely what Venezuelans are doing, he said, “and we have to come together to help our countrymen continue on their way.”