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OAS chief Almagro: ‘Venezuela is no longer a democracy’

Venezuelan National Guard stand guard outside the courthouse during the hearing of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López in Caracas, earlier this month.
In letter to jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López, Almagro continues war of words with Caracas

WASHINGTON — The head of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, openly denounced corruption and violence in Venezuela yesterday, saying a 14-year prison term for an opposition leader there marked the “end of democracy” in the country.

In an eight-page open letter to hardline Popular Will leader Leopoldo López, Almagro criticized Venezuela’s climate of “intimidation.”

The OAS chief also denounced threats against those working to recall left-wing President Nicolás Maduro.

“No regional or subregional forum can ignore the reality that today in Venezuela there is no democracy or rule of law,” Almagro said, calling López a “friend.”

“Under no circumstances should power be used... to prevent the sovereign will of the people from being expressed.”

The former Uruguayan foreign minister said Venezuelans are a “victim of bullying.”

The Venezuelan government “seeks to maintain its power and deny the people the right to make decisions through voting, by resorting to violence against those who demonstrate or hold other opinions,” Almagro said.

“It has crossed a line, which means it is the end of democracy.”

On August 12, Venezuela’s court of appeals upheld a 14-year sentence for López that was handed down after a closed-door trial. The sentence was strongly condemned by the European Union, the United Nations and the United States.

López, one of Maduro’s most hardline opponents whose stance has excacerbated divisions among the opposition coalition, had repeatedly declared himself innocent of the crime for which he was convicted — inciting violence at anti-government protests in 2014 that left 43 dead.

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, is gripped by recession that has contributed to severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods that have triggered violence and looting.

Maduro blames the recession on wealthy business magnates and “imperialist foes” he says are conspiring against his government.

The opposition is racing to force a referendum to recall Maduro from office, blaming him for the crisis and mishandling the state-led economy.

According to the Constitution, a successful recall vote this year would trigger a presidential election that the opposition would likely win. But an opposition victory in a recall referendum next year would result only in Vice-President Aristóbulo Istúriz — a Socialist Party stalwart — replacing Maduro until his term ends in early 2019.

Election officials already stretched out the first phase of the recall effort — verifying submitted signatures from one percent of voters to authorize the second petition drive — into a months-long ordeal.

The government has been accused of dragging its feet while stopping short of actually denying the recall effort.

Earlier this month, 15 members of the OAS called on Venezuela to act “without delay” to clear the way for the election.

Almagro recently branded Maduro a “petty dictator” and in an ongoing war of words said Venezuela had suffered an “alteration of constitutional order” and called for OAS members to invoke Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to suspend the country from the bloc, the issue remains under review.

Herald with agencies

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