The United States strongly rejects the call by Venezuela's Constituent Assembly for snap presidential elections before April 30.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert reaffirmed the U.S. position on Thursday, saying, "This vote would be neither free nor fair. It would only deepen, not help resolve, national tensions. It would not reflect the will of the Venezuelan people, and would be seen as undemocratic and illegitimate in the eyes of the international community. We call on the Maduro regime to respect the human rights of all of its citizens, and to return to democratic constitutional order."
The announcement comes as representatives of both the Venezuelan government and the opposition have been negotiating under international auspices in the Dominican Republic, to try to agree on a framework for fair elections.
No agreement has been reached in those talks, as a senior State Department official explained to reporters:
"The decision by the illegitimate Constituent Assembly to convene snap elections, even as negotiations between the opposition and the majority regime are under way, undermines those talks, undermines the ability for the Venezuelan people themselves to meaningfully participate in addressing the multiple crises that have been caused by the Maduro regime."
Maduro targets new six-year term
Asked if further sanctions against Venezuela are being considered, a senior State Department official said they are always under consideration. With Venezuela now set to hold a new presidential election by April 30, President Nicolas Maduro is likely to attempt to win a new six-year term over divided opposition.
Maduro told his supporters at a rally: "It's the right decision. Imperialism and the right were plotting to take over the economy."
The Constituent Assembly unanimously approved the new election Tuesday as the ruling Socialist Party attempts to consolidate its power, even as Venezuela's economic crisis worsens.
Under Maduro, the country's money has become nearly worthless and prices for consumer products have soared. There are widespread food and medicine shortages, with many Venezuelans left malnourished.
U.S. focused on Venezuela people
Asked by VOA if the U.S. and the international community are planning what to do if the Venezuelan economy collapses, a senior State Department official said the U.S. is most focused on the plight of the Venezuelan people.
"We have consistently called for the government to allow international humanitarian assistance to be able to enter Venezuela. We continue to prepare to provide that kind of humanitarian assistance directly to the Venezuelan people to alleviate the suffering that they are enduring under the Maduro regime's plans."
Venezuela has refused to acknowledge the hunger and malnutrition problem, and has refused all international humanitarian assistance. But a majority of the country's 30 million people say they are skipping meals due to a lack of food, and some 500,000 people have left the country over the past two years.