The Obama administration accused the Venezuelan government Monday of meddling with the newly elected congress after the Venezuelan Supreme Court decided to block several elected officials from taking their seats. But the administration stopped short of calling for stronger action, such as imposing penalties as proposed by Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
“We are concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to interfere with the newly elected National Assembly exercising its constitutionally mandated duties,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday. “We continue to call for respect for the will of the people.”
The Venezuelan opposition called the high court’s decision a “judicial coup” after judges blocked four elected lawmakers who are supposed to take their seats Tuesday. In a statement, the Supreme Court denied the allegations, saying the rumors “do not contribute to the environment of tranquility and peace.”
In Washington, leaders in the U.S. Congress with ties to the region called for the Obama administration and regional allies to condemn the regime of Nicolás Maduro and stop it from further destabilizing the country and weakening the National Assembly.
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“Maduro is up to his dirty tricks only to hold on to power, but we must remain vigilant and apply stringent sanctions to anyone in Maduro’s regime who commits human rights violations,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Menendez wrote President Barack Obama a letter Monday urging him to lead an effort to impose greater international penalties and monitoring. Menendez urged the administration to press the Organization of American States to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which allows the organization to apply pressure on any of its members for “unconstitutional alteration or interruption” of the democratic process.
We are concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to interfere with the newly elected National Assembly.
State Department spokesman John Kirby
“Shining light on a shadowy regime like Mr. Maduro’s is an important part of the process for holding it accountable,” Menendez said in a statement. “The United States should call on the Organization of American States and other legitimate international bodies to monitor the handover of power in Venezuela’s National Assembly.”
Kirby also pressed others in the region to speak out in defense of democracy.
In the lead-up to the Dec. 6 Venezuela election, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro raised 18 pages of concerns that Maduro’s administration was inhibiting political dissent, manipulating the news media and banning opposition leaders from running for office.
Almagro addressed the more recent court controversy indirectly in his year-end video statement.
“We especially congratulate Venezuela and ask that no one distort the voice of the people and its most genuine expression – which is the election results – with schemes of dubious legality,” Almagro said.
Almagro did not broach steps the OAS could take, such as invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Gregory Weeks, chairman of the department of political science and public administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and editor of the academic journal The Latin Americanist, didn’t think the OAS would invoke the charter, citing Latin American leaders’ lack of interest in taking drastic actions against another sitting government.
But Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Washington-based Council of the Americas and a former State Department official, said Almagro had been aggressive in his stance against the Venezuelan government. He could continue to lead a pro-democracy push to see what outside efforts could be used to protect the electoral process, including the charter, Farnsworth said.
“It was the government itself who ran the election,” Farnsworth said. “It’s the old story of – it’s probably not politically correct – the guy who shot both of his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan.”