U.S. Targets Maduro-Picked Top Legislator, Six Others In Fresh Venezuelan Sanctions

The United States imposed sanctions on seven Venezuelan legislators on Monday, 13 January. The legislators were accused of leading a bid to seize control of Congress from Juan Guaidó, the U.S. backed opposition leader. On January 5th, the military blocked Guaidó from entering parliament to allow the Socialist Party to illegally vote Luis Parra as head of parliament. At the same time, the majority of the National Assembly met elsewhere to re-elect Guaidó as head of parliament. Two days later, members managed to enter the building and re-elect Guaidó again. The United States imposed sanctions on Parra as well as six other legislators said to support Maduro: Jose Noriega, Franklyn Duarte, Jose Brito, Conrado Perez, Adolfo Superlano, and Negal Morales. These sanctions are Washington’s latest move against Maduro’s government, which freeze the U.S. assets of those accused, as well as prohibit Americans from doing business with them.

This is the latest event in the Venezuelan presidential crisis, which started January of 2019 after the results of the 2018 presidential elections were disputed. Maduro won the election against Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci, but many politicians internationally and internally contested that the vote was illegitimate due to many irregularities. These irregularities include Maduro calling for the election to take place months early and that multiple opposition parties were banned from running. The National Assembly then decided to make Guaidó the interim president of Venezuela. Maduro’s government stated that this was a “coup d’état led by the United States to topple him and control the country’s oil reserves.” The United States and 60 other countries recognize Juan Guaidó as acting president of Venezuela; Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria, and Turkey support Maduro. The support from Russia and Venezuela’s military contributes to fears that Maduro will stay in power despite the accusations of dictatorship and human rights violations against him. Due to corruption and mismanagement in the past, Venezuela is facing shortages of food and medicine under Maduro.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the attempt to block Guaidó from entering parliament was “at the bidding of Maduro.” He went on to say that the sanctions could be lifted if they shifted their support from Maduro to Guaidó. Mike Pompeo chimed in: “Maduro’s repressive and illegal attempts to stifle the democratic will of the Venezuelan people reveals once more his desperation.” Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, called the seven legislators “traitors to democracy in Venezuela,” and said they were “bought by the dirty money of the corrupt Maduro dictatorship.” The money from Venezuela’s oil continues to economically support the Maduro regime, and up to 70% of their crude oil is processed in Russia, strengthening the bond between the two countries. U.S. Special Envoy Elijah Abrams said: “We underestimated the importance of the Cuban and Russian support for the regime, which has proved, I think, to be the two most important pillars of support for the regime and without which it wouldn’t be there. It wouldn’t be in power.” This may lead to U.S. sanctions on Russian companies working with Venezuelan crude oil.

Due to the damaging nature of the Maduro presidency, hopefully, the U.S. sanctions will put pressure on Parra and other legislators to rethink their support of Maduro. However, this is the latest United States intervention in a conflict that could become larger, as it is divisive along typical geopolitical lines. The United States’ tumultuous history with Russia as well as Iran does not bode well for intervention in Venezuela, as escalation to sanctions on third parties is not ideal.

In addition, despite Maduro’s dictatorial tendencies, the history of U.S. intervention in Latin America has been damaging and violent, to say the least. In Venezuela, the George W. Bush administration kept secret a coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in 2002. Last January, Trump said that “all options are on the table” in terms of military intervention in Venezuela.

Warfare should be the last option in terms of diplomacy. Bernie Sanders, senator of Vermont, tweeted, “we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups—as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil & the D.R. The U.S. has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American nations; we must not go down that road again.” The United States should practice more isolationism and leave a change of government to Venezuela’s own hands.

Maduro has expressed interest in talks with the United States, but the Trump administration will not consider it until he vacates the presidential palace, not wanting to take any actions that affirm his presidency. For the time being, the sanctions will remain on those seven legislators as long as they support Maduro, and the latest drama in the presidential crisis remains unresolved.