As Maduro heads to new term, some say it’s time to stop buying Venezuelan oil

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro AP

As the international community sounds the alarm over Nicolás Maduro’s new presidential term that starts Jan. 10 in Venezuela, experts warn that resolving the hemispheric crisis will take more than words.

It’s time to stop buying Venezuelan oil and break diplomatic relations with Maduro’s regime, the experts say.

“Nicolas Maduro must be totally isolated, totally asphyxiated. There is no other way,” said former Venezuelan foreign minister Asdrúbal Aguiar. “We must have serious and severe international measures. They cannot simply be international cosmetic measures.”

The Lima Group, whose membership includes several of Latin America’s largest countries, plans to issue a statement Friday on Maduro’s new, six-year term, after he claimed victory in elections branded as fraudulent by much of the international community.

The Organization of American States may also take up the issue, although Caracas has been lobbying a large group of Caribbean countries that receive subsidized Venezuelan oil.

The electoral fraud, “Maduro’s original sin, will finally turn into a determining factor for the region’s diplomacy,” Roger Noriega, former U.S. secretary of state for the western hemisphere, said in a telephone interview from Washington.

“The elections he orchestrated were totally discredited, and the idea that he will continue in power, based on a fraudulent and ridiculous process, is not realistic,” Noriega added. “I believe that the most important countries in the region will come to the conclusion that they can no longer continue doing business with his government as though everything was normal.”

The crisis, which has driven millions of Venezuelans to seek refuge abroad, was also discussed this week by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Brazilian counterpart, Ernesto Araújo, on the sidelines of the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

In a joint news conference, Pompeo said the two countries share a “profound desire” for a return to democracy in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, “where people face difficulties expressing their opinions.”

Maduro insists that his reelection was legitimate and has already dismissed any possible criticisms over the next few days.

“There is no possibility that any foreign government can say anything to recognize or not recognize the constitutional and democratic legitimacy of the government that I will lead starting on Feb. 10,” Maduro told government television.

Maduro is relying on the support he receives from Russia, China and Turkey, said Miami-based political analyst Esteban Gerbasi. He also has the backing of Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Those alliances could give Maduro some space to maneuver and survive the diplomatic storm that could erupt if the international community winds up branding his regime as a dictatorship, said Gerbasi.

On top of verbal condemnations, the international community must adopt new and severe sanctions, including a stop to purchases of Venezuelan oil, Aguiar said in a telephone interview from New York.

“The United States cannot continue supplying money to the Venezuelan regime,” Aguiar said. In addition, “there must be a massive withdrawal of ambassadors.”

The Venezuelan government said Wednesday that those sorts of sanctions are precisely what Pompeo was working on during his visit to Brazil and will push for in a meeting with Colombian President Iván Duque Thursday in Cartagena.

Pompeo “came to Latin America to issue direct orders to the governments that depend on Washington” to make those countries “step up their aggressions against the people of Venezuela as part of their obsessive goal of bringing about regime change by force,” the foreign ministry said.

This report used additional reporting from the Nuevo Herald’s news agencies. Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter:@DelgadoAntonioM