Maduro starts new term in Venezuela facing US sanctions, lack of legitimacy abroad

Maduro starts new term in Venezuela facing US sanctions, lack of legitimacy abroad
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was inaugurated for a second six-year term Thursday, facing broad international questions about his legitimacy and increased U.S. sanctions on his regime. 
Republicans and Democrats alike have panned Maduro's reelection, in a rare display of American unity at a time of sharp political divisions. 
His second inauguration also contrasted with his first term after Maduro won a contested special election in 2013 that followed the death of former President Hugo Chavez.
Back then Maduro received more or less full - if reluctant - international recognition. But this time, his election to a second term in May 2018 was only recognized as legitimate by Venezuelan allies such as Cuba, Nicaragua, China, Russia and Syria.
"It's basically been recognized by Thugs R Us," said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.).
Still, it's unclear whether Maduro's lack of legitimacy in his second term will provide the United States new avenues to exert pressure on the struggling South American country.
President TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE has systematically increased sanctions on Venezuelan officials and select companies tied to the regime, as well as placing wider-ranging sanctions on the country's gold exports.
The administration has stopped short of imposing oil sanctions, in part to avoid further depressing Venezuela's economy and aggravating the country's humanitarian crisis.
An administration official speaking on background told reporters last year that oil sanctions might also prove ineffective, as Maduro's mismanagement of the national oil company, PDVSA, effectively acts as a comprehensive oil embargo.
Administration officials did not respond to requests for comment on this story, but Vice President Pence called Maduro a "dictator" and his election a "sham" on Twitter Thursday.
A close administration ally, Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzOutrage grows as Justice seeks to contain subpoena fallout Gaetz, under investigative cloud, questions FBI director House Judiciary releases McGahn testimony on Trump MORE (R-Fla.), said he welcomes Pence weighing in on Maduro, noting "Venezuela threatens to destabilize the Western Hemisphere in a way that would require a tremendous amount of response by the United States if we're not paying attention on the front end."
"I think that a case for military intervention is far easier to make in Venezuela than in Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria," said Gaetz.
But the military option, once hinted at by President Trump, lacks widespread political support, and could alienate other countries in the region.
"We've had military around the world. I don't know if the American people would support it. I don't know that I would support it, but there are other things that we can do, and we should continue to do," added Engel.
One avenue of pressure, other than sanctions, that the United States has successfully pursued is through the Organization of American States (OAS) - a regional grouping of all independent countries in the Americas, which did not recognize Maduro's reelection.
"The administration has been really good in pressuring Venezuela through sanctions, but also in diplomatically leading the effort around the world along with the secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, who has been very good in promoting what the OAS stands for, which is democracy," said Florida's Congressman Díaz-Balart.
But a close U.S. ally, Mexico, has pulled away from direct criticism of Maduro's regime.
Under new leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico did not sign the Group of Lima declaration against the 2018 election, a big shift from the previous administration.
"Is the new administration in Mexico going to accept the atrocities committed by Maduro? That remains to be seen. Is it just that the new president of Mexico is going to lay back? That remains to be seen. We have to withhold judgement until that happens," said Díaz Balart.
"The more you know about Venezuela, the more it's hard to not be outraged by what that regime is doing to its people," he added.