WASHINGTON: The United States denounced the presidential elections in Venezuela Sunday as illegitimate, rejecting President Nicolas Maduro's bid for a new mandate amid the worst crisis in the country's history.
Polls opened early Sunday in Venezuela in elections boycotted by the main opposition parties, and heavily criticized by the United States, the European Union and many Latin American governments.
"Sham elections change nothing. We need Venezuelan people running this country...a nation with so much to offer the world," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted.
In the tweet, Pompeo also called on the Maduro government to free Joshua Holt, an American missionary who was detained in 2016 accused of plotting against the government.
Holt surfaced Wednesday in a video appeal for help during a protest by jailed opposition prisoners held by the country's feared SEBIN intelligence service.
President Donald Trump's administration has ratcheted up pressure on the Maduro regime, sanctioning members of the leftist regime and targeting its ability to borrow in the US financial markets.
On Friday, the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Socialist Party boss Diosdado Cabello, Maduro's number two, accusing him of working with other sanctioned individuals to move drugs through Venezuela.
About 20 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday's elections, which Maduro is favored to win despite 75 percent disapproval of his government by Venezuelans facing dire shortages of food and medicine, cuts in power and water, and soaring crime.
"Venezuela's so-called elections today are not legitimate," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Twitter.
"The United States stands with democratic nations around the world in support of the Venezuelan people and their sovereign right to elect their representatives through free and fair elections."