PARIS — People in Venezuela are starving, suffering and have been fleeing the country at a rate of 5,000 per day. The crisis has reverberated far beyond our borders. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the stability of the hemisphere depends on what both Venezuelans and our global partners are willing to do in order to move forward.
Free and fair presidential election will be a critical step toward restoring freedom, prosperity, stability and the rule of law. Most important, presidential election will ensure that another generation is not lost to the corrupt and unlawful regime of Nicolás Maduro. That was the message Juan Guaidó, who the United States and dozens of other countries recognize as Venezuela’s interim president, delivered to heads of state and foreign dignitaries over the past weeks, after bravely defying an illegal travel ban imposed by Mr. Maduro.
As the interim government’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, I had the privilege of accompanying Mr. Guaidó throughout his meetings in Europe and North America. Our goal was to convey the scale of the horrors Mr. Maduro has inflicted on innocent Venezuelans and to urge our allies to unite behind a coordinated global strategy.
In every meeting, Mr. Guaidó urgently relayed to his counterparts that the scale of the crisis is growing exponentially with every passing day. Hyperinflation continues. Basic food and medicines are out of reach for more than 80 percent of the population, and the country’s health system has collapsed. At least four million Venezuelans already have fled the country, and millions more are expected to follow.
The world is starting to see that Mr. Maduro leads a criminal organization that is committing crimes against humanity and is running a parallel state based on a criminal logic that is destabilizing the region. He’s evading sanctions and exploiting financial loopholes, thanks to financial lifelines and support provided by Russia, China, Turkey, and Cuba. He is using blood gold — the gold extracted under illegal and criminal conditions to funnel currency to Mr. Maduro’s regime — to destroy the Venezuelan jungle, deforesting thousands of acres of natural reserves, poisoning our rivers with mercury, uprooting and threatening indigenous communities, and trafficking with irregular terrorist groups.
Our neighbors are struggling under the largest migratory exodus in the history of the hemisphere. Mr. Maduro’s support of Colombian guerrilla groups, including the National Liberation Army and FARC dissidents; international terrorist groups, like Hezbollah; as well as paramilitary death squads have brought increasing violence and instability to Venezuela and the region.
Countries have reacted with alarm to these disastrous conditions, but attempts to keep pace with the crisis through sanctions, humanitarian aid and mediation have had mixed results. All of these approaches have had value but they’ve often being conducted in isolated and, at times, divergent ways.
Therefore, new efforts must synchronize regional approaches with those of the coalition of nearly 60 countries recognizing Mr. Guaidó in his work to defend democracy and freedom for Venezuela.
The efforts being led by the international community — with the support of the Lima Group, the leadership of the United States and the backing of Europe — need to come together under one global initiative that helps set the stage for elections in coming months. Venezuelans have the right to decide our own future.
This global initiative should be built on the strategic application of multilateral pressure and incentives. While several countries, led by the United States and Canada, have already imposed hard-hitting sanctions against Mr. Maduro and his allies for violating human rights in Venezuela, sanctions should be aligned across countries and financial loopholes should be closed, particularly those in Europe that have allowed his illicit facilitators to launder millions.
Inside Venezuela, we need to ensure that all parties are at liberty to participate in elections without fear or constraints. As constitutionally mandated, the National Assembly must be allowed to select a new independent National Electoral Council, and an independent Supreme Court also must be newly constituted. Additionally, domestic and international independent electoral observers must be allowed unfettered access to the process.
To make meaningful progress toward a real solution, the time is now to demand an election process that is expedient, fair and free. We cannot allow the Maduro regime to dictate our future. We must make it clear to Mr. Maduro and his thugs that the status quo, as he knows it, is over.
Isadora Zubillaga is deputy presidential commissioner for foreign affairs of Venezuela’s interim government and the special representative to France.
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