The Trump administration on Monday is expected to call on Venezuela to suspend its May 20 presidential elections as part of a coordinated push by top U.S. officials this week to build international support and isolate the Caracas regime.
Vice President Mike Pence will be the first to call for the suspension of the Venezuelan election during a speech to ambassadors of more than 30 nations at a special meeting of the Organization of the American States in Washington, two senior administration officials told McClatchy.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is expected to pick up the theme on Tuesday at the State Department, ,where she’ll give the keynote address at the annual conference of the Council of the Americas. It will then be reinforced again by members of the departments of State, Treasury and others during speeches and conversations throughout the week focusing on what the administration sees as a corrupt Venezuelan election with a foregone conclusion.
“We’re continuing the drum beat,” said a senior administration official. “We’ve called it a sham election. We’ll continue to call it a sham election. Show your fatherland card and win a prize. That is blatant vote buying.”
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss plans that have not yet been made public.
Venezuela sits on the world's largest oil reserves, but the once-thriving nation has plummeted into a deepening humanitarian and economic crisis amid food shortages and an inflation rate that has quadrupled in recent months.
The government of President Nicolás Maduro has tried to shore up support among his starving people by nearly doubling the minimum salary and delivering boxes stamped with pictures of Maduro and former president Hugo Chávez filled with rice, pasta, and other basic goods. But Maduro has also initiated brutal crackdowns on protests.
The senior administration officials said Pence will also announce another “action against corrupt officials in Venezuela,” but did not provide details. The Trump administration has slapped more than 20 sanctions against Venezuelan officials and restricted U.S. investment and financial transactions, including those involving Venezuela’s new digital currency. The most recent iteration of President Trump's travel ban also included travel restrictions for government officials.
The last vice president to address the OAS was Al Gore in 1994.
“In his speech, the Vice President will reaffirm our commitment to increasing economic prosperity and joint security cooperation with our friends and allies in the Western Hemisphere, as well as hold undemocratic actors in the region accountable for their actions,” said Alyssa Farah, Pence's spokeswoman.
Although the U.S. and other nations can't force a suspension of the Venezuelan elections, the administration hopes to encourage other western hemispheric powers to pressure Venezuela to hold off on elections until they can be sure the voting will be free and fair.
Trump has taken a very aggressive posture toward Venezuela, leading efforts to isolate the Maduro regime, which has allowed the nation to deteriorate to life-threatening levels and forced millions to flee.
Maduro has responded by blaming the U.S. for the country’s woes and accusing the United States of trying to overthrow his government. He promised an armed revolt if the elections produce a new government that seeks to sell Venezuela to the American “gringos.”
Maduro is hoping to win a new, six-year term. His nearest opposition, Henrí Falcón, is a one-time government supporter turned dissident. He is struggling to attract voters who are wary that going to the polls will legitimize a deeply flawed electoral process. And most of the major opposition groups are calling for an outright boycott of the election.
Pence last week touched on several themes he’s expected to bring up at the OAS during the swearing-in ceremony for the new U.S. permanent representative to the OAS, Ambassador Carlos Trujillo. Pence called on allies to work with the United States to root out the corruption “that spreads misery and instability and compromises the values of this hemisphere.” He highlighted Venezuela, but also Cuba and Nicaragua.
“In Cuba, the Castro name may be fading, but its legacy of tyranny lives on and hangs over that country like a cloud, darkening the future of all who call that island home,” Pence said. “And in Venezuela, under the rule of the dictator Nicolás Maduro, a once-flourishing democracy has disintegrated into dictatorship. And what was once perhaps the most prosperous nation in South America has become one of its poorest.”
Trujillo, who will carry out the administration's priorities at the OAS, said Venezuela should be immediately suspended from the OAS. He wants the international group to pass a resolution condemning Venezuela for not allowing basic humanitarian aid.
And he promised the United States will hold accountable Caribbean nations and others who have sided with Venezuela against the United States during OAS votes.
Haley will follow up at the 48th annual Washington Conference of the Americas. She is expected to bring up her recent trip to Central America and the plight of Nicaraguans. She has also spoken out against the Maduro government for criticizing Catholic bishops who raised concerns about the country’s food shortages.
“Venezuela is going to dominate the conversation next week,” said another senior administration official.
Jim Wyss contributed to this report.