Defending Democracy with Diplomacy

By John McIntyre, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy

Trinidad and Tobago and the United States share a deep respect for the rule of law and the tradition of helping other nations in need.

As Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Francisco “Paco” Palmieri said during his visit to Trinidad last week:  “The entire region should be concerned by the erosion of Venezuelan democracy, by the detention of hundreds of political prisoners, and by the government’s policies, which have created a critical lack of basic medicines and access to food.”

The Maduro Government has relentlessly and intentionally undermined other Constitutional branches of government from the inside.  Since opposition parties won a majority of seats in 2015, Venezuela’s National Assembly has been systematically smothered by the Maduro government.

When a government breaks with democracy, we must join in solidarity with its people.  Not through intervention or interference, but with diplomacy and mediation among all parties to help find a peaceful, democratic, and comprehensive solution.

Today, we are witness to something insidious in Caracas. Citing vague, unproven claims of electoral fraud, allegedly committed by three legislators, the government has denied the legislative branch the right to pass laws and the captive judiciary has declared Venezuela’s Congress “in contempt,” stripping it of all legislative authority.

When Venezuelan people protested, the Maduro administration blocked an attempt to put Maduro’s leadership to a vote through a recall referendum. In contrast, the late President Chavez vigorously defended the people’s right to use the referendum process to hold governments to account.  Indeed, Chavez both won and lost referenda.

Maduro is undermining Venezuela’s military, increasing his reliance on them to control the economy, intimidate opponents, and suppress popular discontent.  More than 331 Venezuelan civilians are being held and prosecuted by military courts in secret trials. Venezuela’s own Attorney General, appointed by Chavez in 2007, has condemned the trials and the military has refused her access to the prisoners.

Faced with a crumbling economy and massive popular dissatisfaction, the Maduro regime is now destroying the last vestiges of the democratic order.

The upcoming General Assembly of the Organization of American States will provide us a forum to discuss the death spiral of democracy in Venezuela.

We are obligated to help end the polarizing violence and to stand by the Venezuelan people as they reclaim their democracy.