Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures as he arrives for a session of the National Constituent Assembly at Palacio Federal Legislativo in Caracas, Venezuela August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino Image Credit: Reuters

The American continent should hang its head in shame for standing by as violence, and violation, have been inflicted on Venezuela. Years of growing tensions culminated last month in the total usurpation of the state by a gang of “Bolivarian” leftists, corrupt soldiers and the Cuban government.

Last-minute declarations by a group of nations, including my own, Colombia, that they would not recognise the National Constituent Assembly that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will impose, is far too little, far too late.

The regional apathy before this systematic assault on democracy is in itself partly responsible for the Venezuelan calamity. Protected by the likes of former Brazil president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the two Kirchner presidents in Argentina — Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Nestor Kirchner — who were more of their ilk, the Venezuelan regime’s founder, the late Hugo Chavez, proceeded to demolish liberties one at a time, starting with press freedoms.

Still, since it’s a “left-wing” regime, it is acceptable among intellectuals and political types imbued with healthy doses of arrogance, pride and hypocrisy. The head of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro, has said the group would not recognise the new Assembly, and called for an urgent meeting of the regional group. His response is admirable, and not unlike Don Quixote’s defiance of the windmills. Admittedly, he has taken over a servile organisation already on its knees before the Chavista system, though still not as servile as Unasur and Celac, the big regional trading groups and sham congregations designed to protect the 21st-century Socialism of the Bolivarians.

The time has come to disconnect these state and non-state actors from their life support system: Petrodollars.

Meanwhile, the rulers of the Caribbean states, most of whose populations are descended from slaves, should explain why today they have become slaves to Venezuelan oil, and ready to trade liberty and justice for a misery bowl of sustenance. The president of Uruguay, Tabare Vasquez, should look in the mirror and ask himself why he has so far suffered Maduro in Mercosur, against the opinions of his partners and the values of this leading regional democracy.

The last United States administration, led by former president Barack Obama, with its pitiful foreign policy legacy, played along with Maduro through a policy of appeasement. He kept sending the negotiator, Thomas Shannon, to stroll and chat in the Miraflores Palace. US President Donald Trump now has few cards with which to influence events, and anything he does may end up fortifying the dictatorship.

Latin America has something to learn from Africa, the continent we have always underestimated. When former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh sought to ignore the election results that had given power to his successor, Adama Barrow, the African Union intervened to defend democracy. It even warned him of possible use of force, letting him know that he must go or “be moved”. He went.

Venezuelans’ brave efforts have hit the wall of the regime’s firepower. Its spurious Constituent Assembly will soon start “deliberating” on the corpse of the National Assembly elected in 2015 — unless the Chavista-Cuban army monolith starts to crack. Because it does not seem as if the finger-wagging and mutterings of foreign states will stop it. The regime’s secret police thugs have just taken their high-profile opponents, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, from house arrest back to jail.

That looks like just the start, as darkness descends on the homeland of Simon Bolivar.

— Worldcrunch/New York Times News Service

Marcos Peckel is an International Affairs columnist at two of the main dailies in Colombia, El Espectador and El Pais.