The author of this calamity, the regime founded by Hugo Chávez and now led by Nicolás Maduro, is steadfastly refusing to accept humanitarian aid. For years it has rejected the most basic measures to stabilize the economy. In the past year, it has overseen a 30 percent drop in oil production and defaulted on some $50 billion in debt. On Sunday, however, it is staging a presidential election — one in which the leading opposition candidates and parties have been banned. Though polls show he might nonetheless lose the actual vote to one of the two other candidates he did allow on the ballot, Mr. Maduro will almost certainly declare victory.
For the United States and other Western democracies, the question becomes what happens next. Historically, very few governments have survived an economic collapse on the scale of Venezuela’s. But the Maduro regime has outlived many predictions of its demise. Because of violent repression in which more than 130 people died, it overcame a popular pro-democracy uprising last year, demoralizing the mainstream opposition. Mr. Maduro remains deeply bonded with the Communist regime in Cuba — so much so that he recently used more than $400 million in precious hard currency to buy oil for Cuba on foreign markets, even as his own people literally starve.
The United States, 15 Latin American nations, Canada and the European Union have all said they will not recognize the election. Many of those governments are considering imposing new sanctions. The Trump administration, having already sanctioned Mr. Maduro and dozens of other top leaders and banned U.S. traders from handling Venezuelan debt, is weighing additional steps — including a potentially crippling embargo on Venezuelan oil. While some Latin leaders support such a move, others worry it would only amplify the tide of refugees surging across their borders. Pragmatists point out that, thanks to its plummeting production and the seizure of its offshore export facilities by creditors, Venezuela is essentially embargoing itself.
What’s really needed is a multilateral strategy for fostering a political change. In a public appearance several weeks ago, the White House’s top Latin American official, Juan Cruz, hinted that the Venezuelan military should take action against Mr. Maduro. But the military is riddled with corruption and is headed by officers more faithful to Cuba than to the Venezuelan constitution. Mr. Cruz himself acknowledged the more likely solution was a negotiated transition that offered Mr. Maduro and other senior officials a safe way out. For now, that, too, looks unlikely. But the magnitude of Venezuela’s collapse should compel a greater effort by the United States and its Latin allies.
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