As Venezuela sets out to elect a new leader, President Barack Obama “at the very least he should be insisting that the Chavistas respect the rules of the game,” former Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega tells Newsmax TV.
“In terms of the constitutional succession, again, it’s doubtful that they’ll do it, but we need to draw some very bright lines here and work with our neighbors in Latin America to make the case that the Chavista regime is trying to prolong itself in power,” Noriega, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview. “It’s a very dangerous development.
“It’s not sustainable — and the regime: It’s a criminal regime that’s attacking the security of all of the Americans,” Noriega says of the Venezuelan government, now headed up by Vice President Nicolas Maduro. “If we do some serious diplomacy, cultivate some support from other countries in the region, maybe — maybe — we can have a positive impact in favor of a transparent process to give the opposition a fighting chance.”
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Maduro was the hand-picked vice president of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died on Tuesday of cancer at the age of 58. He had been in power for 14 years.
Under the country’s constitution, a presidential election is to be held within 30 days.
“Maduro may not actually be the legitimate president during this interim period, but he has asserted himself in that way,” Noriega tells Newsmax. “We’re off to a very, very bad start in terms of the constitutional process and whether you can have any confidence in the elections held by his regime.
“Obviously, we don’t have much confidence in it — but the international community needs to help the opposition press for constitutional succession and then some reforms in the electoral system so that maybe the opposition has a fighting chance in these special elections that are coming up.”
The opposition party is led by Henrique Capriles, “one of the governors who’s a successful governor of an important state in Venezuela,” Noriega says.
But, realistically, the opposition has been “playing at a disadvantage for the past decade against Chavismo, which has become increasingly systematic in the way it manipulates the electoral process but just as importantly uses all of the advantages of the state to ensure that it saturates the media,” Noriega adds.
“They can buy votes with government programs. They can track recipients of government aid and make sure they vote for the regime. It’s a very sophisticated apparatus — and the opposition is going to need more than good luck to prevail in these upcoming elections.
“They’re going to need a lot of solidarity in the international community that insists on a level playing field and a respectful process where votes are actually counted,” Noriega says.
But two nations that will not be a part of that worldwide coalition are Cuba and Iran, he says.
“Iran’s best friend in the western hemisphere is Venezuela, and their second best friend is Cuba. These two regimes did not want to see the Chavistas lose power. They are expert in holding onto power.
“The Cubans are micromanaging the succession, for example, in Venezuela — and the Iranians are not going to give up their access to the Venezuelan financial system that it uses to launder money, evade international sanctions, search for uranium, and support Hezbollah terrorism right here in the US’s backyard,” Noriega tells Newsmax.
“So Cuba and Iran are big parts of the problem here — and if we focus on those things, maybe we can convince the American people why it’s so important to help transition for the better of Venezuela.”
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