BOGOTA – Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday that Venezuela’s new Constituent Assembly marked the culmination of the destruction of democracy in the Caribbean nation.
Santos said in the wake of Sunday’s election of the assembly’s members, who are to meet for the first time on Friday and will be tasked with rewriting Venezuela’s constitution, that his government would not recognize a body he termed spurious and illegal.
“In recent times, we’ve seen the deterioration, the destruction of democracy in Venezuela,” Santos said in a press conference held to mark the start of the final year of his second four-year term in office.
He said authorities in Venezuela, which has been leftist-led since 1999, had been gradually destroying the country’s democracy and that those moves had led to a hardening of Colombia’s position toward its neighbor, with which it shares a 2,219-kilometer (1,380-mile) border.
“I said clearly – and I think the international community as well, or the majority of the international community – that this Constituent Assembly has spurious, illegal origins, and therefore we cannot recognize that Constituent Assembly as a valid institution,” Santos said.
He added that the decisions of its members, who were elected on Sunday in a controversial balloting that was boycotted by Venezuela’s opposition, “cannot and will not be recognized by Colombia’s government.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, for his part, has slammed Santos as a “vassal” of the United States “empire.”
Maduro has touted the 545-member Constituent Assembly as necessary to lift Venezuela, which has been racked by months of violent opposition-led protests, out of political deadlock and a deep economic crisis.
But Venezuela’s opposition, which has been stymied in its efforts to oust Maduro via a recall referendum, says the assembly will be used as a mechanism to increase the president’s power and sideline the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Venezuela’s unicameral legislature.