Last April I was asked by Juan Guaidó, the interim President of Venezuela, to be the official representative of his government in the UK. I accepted his offer without hesitation. I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to play a role in voicing the worry, fear, anger – and now the despair – of my fellow Venezuelans.

The UK must grasp the opportunity it has to help Venezuela. The humanitarian crisis has reached a tipping point. 15% of the population, some 4 million people, have fled the country. 90% live below the poverty line and there are soaring levels of child malnutrition. This in a country which has the largest proven oil reserves in the world.

The malevolence of Maduro is staggering. He sits at the head of a kleptocracy which, having squandered opportunities for petrochemical wealth through mismanagement, resorts to laundering money, drugs and weapons through close contacts with militia and armed groups. Chavez and now Maduro have disgracefully made the country a safe haven for terrorists and criminals, in exchange for dirty money and arms. It is no coincidence that Hezbollah, which the British government added to its watchlist of terrorist groups earlier this year, has become entrenched in Venezuela.

Back in February, the UK joined France, Spain, Germany, the United States and Canada in recognising the legitimacy of President Juan Guaidó over the tyranny and corruption of Maduro. This recognition is deserved. Guaidó is the President of the only remaining democratic institution in the country, the National Assembly. He has committed, in line with the Constitution, to holding democratic elections when Maduro falls. Guaidó stands as a counterpoint to the diminished and further diminishing freedoms of Venezuelans to vote for whomever they wish, to speak out against the moral depravity with which the Maduro government rules and to exert control over their own lives. In recognising Guaidó’s legitimacy, the UK has affirmed the right of every person to have these freedoms. But it must not stop there.

Maduro is still protected by a network of cronies and laundered drug money. He is protected by corrupt outposts in embassies around the world which refuse to renew Venezuelans’ passports leaving them in legal limbo. Recognising Guaidó without subsequent action to remove the tentacles of Chavista influence abroad risks keeping Maduro in power.

An election in Venezuela is the express aim of President Guaidó and the UK Government. Failing to support these efforts from London, despite recognising Guaidó’s legitimacy, shows a face of solidarity, while ensuring the machinations of Maduro’s network continue to reap profits behind the scenes.

The UK has an opportunity to open a dialogue and engage with nations with punitive refugee policies by advancing diplomatic solutions and creating an expectation of international assistance. The headlines of January and February may have subsided, but the opportunity for Britain’s leadership on Venezuela on the global stage is still present. Exodus from Venezuela is predicted to grow as the region is reaching saturation point. Trinidad and Tobago and Peru have just this week begun to demand visas for entry of Venezuelans who are fleeing hunger and persecution.

In a recent report, Amnesty International exposed the raids and illegal attacks on houses to intimidate protestors and civilians demonstrating against the government, or government opponents. More than half are unable to meet basic food needs of their families. Venezuelans are leaving because they cannot eat and have no freedom to speak out.

While news attention may divert away from the suffering of my compatriots, the British Government must lead international dialogue to prevent more countries following the lead of Peru and Trinidad and Tobago. It must lead in securing the funds embezzled and hidden in bank accounts, not only in the UK but around the world. Recognising Guaidó is a brilliant start. Working with Guaidó to free the people of the country which wants to participate in his elections is even better.

Dr. Vanessa Neumann is the interim President Juan Guaidó’s official representative to the UK