Venezuela has succumbed to dictatorship. It’s going to take a concerted international effort to reverse this ugly development.
On July 30, socialist strongman Nicolas Maduro held a fraudulent and highly unpopular election. As a result, all 545 seats of a new “Constituent Assembly” are being filled with candidates hand-picked by Maduro’s National Socialist Party.
The Constituent Assembly is empowered to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution, expel members of the opposition from the current National Assembly, and consolidate all power in the executive branch.
On the day of the election, Maduro’s security forces killed 16 innocent demonstrators and bystanders. Videos showed national guardsmen pouring live fire into unarmed crowds and lobbing teargas into hospitals and apartment buildings.
In 121 days of anti-government protests, government forces killed 130 innocents and detained 3,500 demonstrators. As of Aug. 3, more than 430 protesters remained incarcerated.
This is unprecedented in Venezuelan history. Maduro’s jails hold a record number of political prisoners. Never has the Venezuelan government been so dangerously defiant of the people’s will.
Or of international opinion: A total of 40 countries quickly refused to accept the sham vote. Eleven are in the Western Hemisphere, including the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru.
The European Parliament also condemned the results, as did multilateral organizations like the Organization of American States and Mercosur (Southern Common Market).
Although Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke strongly against the sham elections, the U.N. maintained its traditional weak-kneed, silent approach.
The Trump administration tried to warn Maduro off this anti-democratic course. Prior to the election, Washington froze the U.S. assets of some of his closest political cronies—13 current and former Venezuelan government officials—and barred them from traveling to the U.S.
Still, Maduro persisted, and U.S. Treasury sanctions have been extended to him as a result.
The point is that Maduro’s political coup stands on shaky ground. Only 19.5 million Venezuelans are registered to vote. Maduro’s approval rating stands at 15 percent.
Laughably, he claims to have received 8.1 million votes. Exit polling, however, indicates that only a paltry 2.5 million ballots were actually submitted. Chalk up the “extra” 5.6 million votes to fraud.
Of course, Maduro had help in strangling democracy in Venezuela; most of it came from Havana.
Cuban officials have inserted themselves more and more into Venezuela’s government for years. Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro aptly describes Cuba’s presence in Venezuela as that of an “occupational army.”
Cuba and the rest of Venezuela’s support group of regional despots—the leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Nicaragua—all stand behind Maduro’s illegitimate power grab. Maduro reportedly allows only Cuban bodyguards to protect him.
Cuba’s long, sad history of political arrests is replicating itself in Venezuela.
While under house arrest for failing health, opposition leaders and former Caracas Mayors Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez were snatched from their homes in the middle of the night by Venezuelan intelligence services. Both previously spent time in Venezuela’s prisons.
Ledezma was released in 2015 after two months. Lopez was not so lucky; he spent a grueling three years in a military prison where he was physically and emotionally tortured before his brief release earlier this year.
To this day, their families receive death threats and are routinely victimized by government vigilante mobs.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet the wives of these two brave men. Their families’ strength in the face of brutality is heroic. The international community must demand their unconditional release.
President Donald Trump has recognized that Maduro crossed an irreversible line. His administration’s pivot away from President Barack Obama’s failed “strategic patience” strategy with Maduro has been the proper course of action.
But now, the U.S. must ratchet up the pressure on Maduro more than ever—and we cannot do this alone. It will take a coordinated effort of many nations.
The good news is: The number of other nations on the side of the Venezuelan people is growing.
A recent decision by Colombia, Mexico, and Panama to levy parallel sanctions against the 13 Venezuelan government officials the U.S. targeted is an exceptionally positive development and a testament to Trump’s leadership on this issue.
But there needs to be more. There must also be a diplomatic cost to the Latin American nations not fulfilling their obligations to Venezuela’s democracy as outlined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
America cannot be forced to go at this alone.
This article originally was published by Fox News.