Mexico, 5 South American countries question Venezuela rules

MEXICO CITY - Mexico has joined five South American countries in expressing concern over the decision by electoral authorities in Venezuela to effectively delay a presidential recall vote until 2017.

The foreign ministers of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Paraguay signed an open letter criticizing the decision, which they said undermines the point of having a referendum in the first place.

Venezuelan electoral officials said last week that while opponents of socialist President Nicolas Maduro can try to trigger the recall by collecting signatures from 20 per cent of voters next month, any referendum would not be held until next year.

The ruling all but assures the socialists will remain in power until the next regularly scheduled presidential election in 2018 because if Maduro is not recalled before the midpoint of his term, or Jan. 10, 2017, he would be replaced by his vice-president.

The decision has also drawn rebuke from U.S. officials.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida urged President Barack Obama to sanction Tibisay Lucena, the head of Venezuela's electoral council, and two other officials for violating human rights of Venezuelans. The decision "has shown once again the regime's anti-democratic tactics," Rubio said.

If Rubio's request to sanction Lucena, another electoral council member and former Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres should be approved, the three would be banned from travelling to the U.S. and any assets of theirs in the United States would be frozen.

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