Vice president Mike Pence called on Venezuela to suspend its presidential election later this month because of corruption concerns, declaring that the results would be fraudulent.
The Trump administration joined the European Union in calling on Venezuela to postpone the May 20 election without assurances it will be a free and fair contest. President Nicolas Maduro is seeking a second six-year term, and opposition lawmakers have said security forces have physically threatened them and their supporters.
Mr Maduro, the US vice president said in a speech to the Organisation of American States, “promised people he would restore prosperity but delivered only deep poverty. He promised renewed greatness but he has only brought that nation suffering.”
“The so-called elections in Venezuela scheduled for May 20 will be nothing more than a fraud and a sham,” Mr Pence said. “There will be no real election in Venezuela on May 20 and the world knows it.”
The US also announced new sanctions on three Venezuelans, including Pedro Luis Martin Olivares, a former intelligence official under indictment in Florida on drug trafficking charges, and 20 companies the Treasury Department said were connected to the targeted Venezuelans. The three men were sanctioned under a US law targeting drug kingpins.
Elections in Venezuela are traditionally held in December, but the country’s National Electoral Council scheduled the contest for spring – a move critics say aims to take advantage of divisions within the opposition. The US state department has said not all political parties have agreed to the elections, limiting the ability of individuals to run.
The US continues to weigh whether to ban imports of Venezuelan oil, which accounts for 95 per cent of the country’s foreign-currency earnings. Venezuela, a founding member of Opec, has the world’s largest proven reserves and is South America’s largest oil exporter. It is the third-largest source of America’s imported oil.
Meanwhile, the country’s opposition claimed on Monday that Venezuela’s inflation rate rose by 13,779 per cent in the past year, a study released Monday by the opposition-dominated National Assembly has found.
The figure confirmed other estimates showing that Venezuela has by far the world’s highest inflation rate.
The International Monetary Fund projects that Venezuela’s inflation will top 13,800 per cent this year.
“We are in the country with the highest hyperinflation in the world,” the head of the legislature’s commission, Rafael Guzman, told a news conference. “We need a new fiscal and exchange rate policy to stabilise the money.”
The National Assembly has been reporting Venezuela’s inflation since last year, when the government stopped giving an official figure.