By Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament
The world cannot keep its eyes closed to what is happening in Venezuela. We need the courage to take decisions that spearhead a change to democracy. Censuring the dictatorship is all very well but taking action to change it is so much better.
Last August, the United States applied economic sanctions, froze assets and banned transactions with President Nicolas Maduro and top Venezuelan officials. Europe, however, is dragging its feet when it should follow that example, imposing individual and selective measures against those responsible for the current repression. Even the NGO Human Rights Watch has publicly asked that sanctions be imposed, because there can be no impunity for those with no respect for democracy or human rights.
Venezuela is going through an unprecedented crisis that has already lasted several years: a combination of political, institutional, social, economic and humanitarian crises. Instead of listening to his people, President Maduro violates the sacred principle of the separation of powers and is making his authoritarian regime ironclad _ we shouldn't be afraid to say it _ in order to enforce a dictatorship. Yes, establishing a National Constituent Assembly and usurping the authority of the National Assembly, the only legitimate representative of the will of the people after winning the December 2015 elections, is precisely what a dictatorial regime does.
All this represents a step backwards in history as Venezuela dumps the progress to democracy and the rule of law that all Latin America and the Caribbean achieved in recent decades.
Today's Venezuelans face shortages of medicines and a diversity of healthcare resources, a severe lack of food and other products needed for adequate nutrition and to cover basic necessities, and even to halt a new outbreak of diseases like diphtheria that have not been seen for the last 20 years.
The economic situation is also desperate with a hyperinflation (720 percent this year and estimated to be as much as 2,000 percent in 2018), along with the contraction of GDP (down 18 percent in 2016, with a drop of 7 percent projected for this year). This can?t happen in a country with the largest oil reserves in the world!
The truth is that the Venezuelan dictatorship is bad for the country, bad for its neighbors, bad for the continent and bad for the whole world. That's why we have to do something.
Recently in Lima, two countries issued a statement about the crisis in Venezuela and took the courageous decision not to take part in the CELAC-EU Summit scheduled for late October in El Salvador, asking that it be postponed. The European Union should do the same and publicly halt that meeting. After receiving the ambassadors of the 12 countries last week, I officially announced that I would not take part in the CELAC-EU Summit nor in the parliamentary Eurolat Summit meeting in El Salvador next week.
The repercussions of what is happening in Venezuela are regional. Colombia faces an enormous flood of refugees crossing the border every day looking for food, medicine and peace. During the month of July alone, 125,000 visas were granted to Venezuelan nationals. But Colombia is not the only country affected. With its 2,000-kilometer (1,240-mile) border with Venezuela, Brazil is going through the same situation. Chile, at almost 5,000 kilometers away, awarded 9,000 visas to Venezuelans last July. Europe also feels the pressure. In June 2017, the requests for international protection by those fleeing Venezuela were more than all that were registered in 2016.
Since Chavismo took power in 1999, more than 2 million people have left Venezuela. The Venezuelan diaspora in Europe, which numbers almost 600,000 exiles, needs protection from the dictatorship, which neither pays their pensions not renews their passports, but arrests them arbitrarily if they ever set foot in their native land.
On a continental and global level, there is also a geopolitical risk. Venezuela under the US sanctions is economically suffocated since it can no longer obtain funds on American financial markets. So it is that countries that never had any particular role in the region are taking advantage of the situation in order to establish and increase their influence. China and Russia, for example, keep lending money to Venezuela's government and state-run companies.
For its part, the European Parliament will continue to follow the situation very closely. We have already passed several resolutions over the past few years requesting the freeing of political prisoners, respect for the powers of the National Assembly, an electoral calendar, and the entry of humanitarian aid.
Before the end of the year, we will organize a conference on democracy in Venezuela, giving voice to all those persecuted by the regime. This is not just for the opposition but also for those who follow Chavismo ideologically but have denounced the dictatorial ways of President Maduro.
I particularly think about Attorney General Luisa Ortega, dismissed from her position by the National Constituent Assembly, and who had to leave the country to avoid being tried and imprisoned.
At the same time, next month the European Parliament will elect the winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The Venezuelan opposition, represented by the National Assembly and its president, Julio Borges, and political prisoners like Leopoldo Lopez, are candidates for the prize, which honors people and organizations dedicated to human rights and freedom.
Disclaimer: This article is part of Agencia EFE's opinion service, which relies on the contributions of diverse figures, and solely reflects the opinions and points of view of its author.