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In firm speech, Pence urges Americas to hold Venezuela accountable

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the Organization of American States in Washington, DC.
Vice President Pence at the Organization of American States on May 7, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence spoke to the Organization of American States (OAS) on Monday, the first time a U.S. vice president has addressed the hemispheric multilateral body since Al Gore in 1994. Pence delivered a forceful speech about the one South American issue the administration has taken a strong stance on: Venezuela.

Why it matters: There’s no doubt that Venezuela presents the region’s greatest crisis. For some — especially Venezuela’s beleaguered democratic opposition — the Trump administration’s stronger rhetoric and sanctions against members of President Nicolás Maduro's government were a welcome change from the Obama administration's tack.

The region and the OAS have failed to act as President Hugo Chávez and President Maduro have torn up Venezuela’s democratic institutions, repressed independent media, clamped down on political opposition and gamed the electoral system in their favor.

In contrast, Pence called on Maduro to suspend the country’s May 20 presidential election, citing unfair conditions (15 governments in the region, including the U.S., have denounced the process). He also called on each OAS country to follow the U.S.’ lead by imposing individual sanctions on public officials engaged in corruption and money laundering in the form of bank freezes and visa restrictions, and by holding Maduro accountable for destroying Venezuela’s democracy. (Though what accountability means wasn't clear.)

Unfortunately, Pence’s call to suspend the election leaves the U.S. without many options in the long run, and could leave it out of step with the rest of the region. Whether or not Maduro convenes an election as planned, the U.S. has not offered a plan for what happens the day after.

Christopher Sabatini is a lecturer at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and executive director of Global Americans.