Chile threatens Venezuela with blockade over crisis

Chile threatens Venezuela with blockade over crisis

Foreign minister demands free elections and warns refugee exodus could destabilise region

Chile’s foreign minister has vowed to work with allies to cut off Venezuela’s communications, shut down its air space and implement a naval blockade if Nicolás Maduro refuses to hold free elections.

Amid an escalating humanitarian crisis that is destabilising the region, causing more than 4m Venezuelans to emigrate, “ever stricter” measures must be taken to put pressure on Caracas to comply with demands to restore democratic order, Teodoro Ribera said.

“The solution to the crisis has to be soon . . . Venezuela is a problem for hemispheric security,” Mr Ribera told the Financial Times. He pointed out that some 400,000 Venezuelans now live among Chile’s 18m-strong population. “We have to make Maduro understand that it is preferable to call elections than not to call them.”

Sanctions have failed to persuade Caracas to heed calls for elections from the international community acting through the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, whose members also include the US, Brazil and Argentina. Mr Ribera said that the “logical next steps” include blocking communications and access to the country by air and sea.

“All countries in the region have to advocate for forcing the Maduro government to call free, democratic elections, with international observers,” he said. Mr Ribera added that the opposition had to be pragmatic and recognise that democratic political transitions “demand reciprocal sacrifices. No one leaves power to go to hell voluntarily.”

Chile’s own transition to democracy after the 1973-90 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet was negotiated and drawn out, but also peaceful and did not harm the economy, said Mr Ribera. Human rights violators should be prosecuted, he said, but a “witch hunt” had to be avoided.

He warned that if the number of Venezuelan immigrants rose to 7-8m, as he fears could happen next year if action is not taken, “that will put very, very great pressure on countries in the region and it could have a destabilising effect”. The foreign minister emphasised that the solution had to be peaceful as military intervention could trigger “an explosion in immigration that we cannot cope with”.

Chile’s hardening stance towards Venezuela comes as Sebastián Piñera, the centre-right president, takes on a stronger leadership role in the region and beyond. Santiago is preparing to welcome delegates in December for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP25, after Brazil pulled out of hosting the event.

Chile, one of the countries most committed to free trade in the world, is also hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting next month amid fears expressed by Mr Ribera of a “deglobalisation” that threatens its open economy.

Observers expect the balance of power to shift in the region if the leftist Alberto Fernández is elected president in Argentina this month, as is widely expected, replacing the centre-right Mauricio Macri. Mr Macri has played a leading role in the region’s opposition to Mr Maduro and in supporting his rival Juan Guaidó.

In recent interviews, Mr Fernandez has resisted calling Mr Maduro a dictator and argued that his government was legitimate. Mr Fernandez did, however, express concerns about the Maduro regime’s authoritarian tendencies.

Mr Ribera suggested that a swing to the left in Argentina could be offset by the election of a centre-right government in Uruguay, which will also hold elections this month. Like Mexico, Uruguay’s leftist Broad Front, which has held power since 2005, has refrained from recognising Mr Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela. es un sitio web oficial del Gobierno Argentino