US Slaps Sanctions on Top Officials of Venezuela Heaping Pressure on Maduro Regime

A protester runs through tear gas during a demonstration in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, 26 July 2017. Photo: Pasquale Giorgio/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • US has targeted top 13 officials of the Maduro regime in Venezuela with personal sanctions for ‘undermining democracy’ amid ongoing antigovernment protests in Latin American country.
  • US sanctions come of the planned elections for a Constituent Assembly, which are said to be orchestrated by Maduro, and is expected to be staffed with Maduro loyalists.
  • United States will not ignore the Maduro regime’s ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom, and the rule of law, US President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin have made it clear.
  • Sanctioned officials include persons responsible for organizing the Constituent Assembly elections, in charge of repression agencies, and state-owned economic entities such as the national oil company PDVSA.

The US government has imposed sanctions on 13 top officials of Venezuela’s government, amid ongoing unrest and violent anti-government protests in the South American country.

At least four people were killed last week in violence during a general strike in Venezuela declared by the opposition as part of the four-month long protests against the government of leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

The violent antigovernment protests in Venezuela, which have lasted for 116 days now, have already claimed 116 lives, according to some estimates, and have injured thousands, while thousands of other protesters have been arrested by the police.

An overwhelming majority of those who voted in the Venezuelam opposition’s recent unofficial referendum rejected Maduro’s plan to change the constitution and supplant the opposition-leaning Parliament with a “Constituent Assembly”.

In early July, armed pro-government militias supporting Venezuela’s controversial President Nicolas Maduro stormed the country’s Parliament, and assaulted several opposition deputies amid the ongoing anti-government protests in the South American country.

A week earlier Oscar Perez, a police officer, stole a helicopter and launched an attack against Venezuela’s pro-government Supreme Court and the Interior Ministry in Caracas.

Protesters across Venezuela took to the streets on April 1 to demand the resignation of President Maduro, the successor of late leader Hugo Chavez and his leftist ideology, Chavism (Chavismo), after the country’s courts tried to strengthen the regime even further.

The anti-government protests in Venezuela’s capital Caracas and a number of major cities have erupted as the oil-rich South American country has been sinking into a deeper and deeper economic crisis, resulting from low oil prices, political mismanagement, and top-level corruption.

Over the past couple of years the escalating crises in what once was the richest South American country has led to steep deterioration of public health with infectious diseases such as malaria creeping back.

The street protests began in response to decisions by Venezuela’s Supreme Court to temporarily assume some of the responsibilities of the opposition-minded National Assembly, and to revoke the immunity of the legislators.

Although both decisions were overturned within days, opposition leaders continue to lead the protests aimed at toppling President Nicolas Maduro, removing the members of the Supreme Court, restoration of local and regional elections, and release of political prisoners.

Venezuela’s President Maduro calls the protesters “terrorists” and insists the demonstrations are a cover for a coup plot orchestrated by the US.

The Protesters’ motivation was boosted at the beginning of May when Maduro announced he would call up a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is seen during a government ceremony in Caracas, Venezuela, 26 July 2017. During the ceremony Maduro congratulated thirteen government officials who were sanctioned by the United States on 26 July for alleged corruption, human rights abuses and undermining democracy. Photo: Venezuelan Presidency handout/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

‘Not Ignoring’ Marudo’s Regime

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced on Wednesday new sanctions against top officials of the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Back in February 2017, the US government already designated Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami “a drug kingpin”, and subject him to sanctions, a move El Aissami called “a miserable provocation”.

The US has now designated 13 current or former senior officials of the Venezuelan government for undermining democracy.

The US sanctions come just as Venezuelan opposition initiated a 48-hour general strike called for July 26 and 27, to demand that President Nicolas Maduro cease the July 30 election for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution.

OFAC pointed out that the sanctions come ahead of the planned July 30, 2017 election orchestrated by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of a National Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, or ANC) that will have the power to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution and may choose to dissolve Venezuelan state institutions.

“A flawed ANC election process all but guarantees that a majority of the Assembly’s members will represent the interests of President Maduro’s government,” the US Treasury Department said, reminding that in a “popular consultation” organized by the opposition and held on July 16, 2017, Venezuelans overwhelmingly opposed the ANC process.

“As President Trump has made clear, the United States will not ignore the Maduro regime’s ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom, and the rule of law,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“As our sanctions demonstrate, the United States is standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy. Anyone elected to the National Constituent Assembly should know that their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential U S sanctions,” he added.

The new US sanctions target current and former officials of Venezuelan Government agencies “associated with the elections or the undermining of democracy, as well as the government’s rampant violence against opposition protesters and its corruption”.

As a result of them, all assets of these individuals subject to US jurisdiction are frozen, and US persons are prohibited from dealing with them.

The Venezuelan officials targeted by the new US sanctions include (more details are available here):

Tibisay Lucena Ramirez, President of the Maduro-controlled National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, or CNE) and President of Venezuela’s National Board of Elections.

Elias Jose Jaua Milano, the head of the Presidential Commission for the National Constituent Assembly responsible for forming and operating the ANC process, and Minister of Education

Tarek William Saab Halabi, Venezuela’s Ombudsman and President of Venezuela’s Republican Moral Council.

Maria Iris Varela Rangel, a member of Venezuela’s Presidential Commission for the National Constituent Assembly.

Nestor Luis Reverol Torres, Venezuela’s Minister of Interior, Justice, and Peace. In 2016, the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against Reverol for his participation in an international cocaine distribution conspiracy.

Carlos Alfredo Perez Ampueda, the National Director of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Police.

Sergio Jose Rivero Marcano, the Commander General of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard.

Jesus Rafael Suarez Chourio, the General Commander of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Army.

Franklin Horacio Garcia Duque, the former National Director of the Bolivarian National Police.

Rocco Albisinni Serrano, President of CENCOEX (National Center for Foreign Commerce – Centro Nacional de Comercio Exterior)

Alejandro Antonio Fleming Cabrera, Vice Minister for Europe of Venezuela’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Simon Alejandro Zerpa Delgado, Vice President of Finance for Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), and the President of Venezuela’s Economic and Social Development Bank (BANDES), and the President of Venezuela’s National Development Fund (FONDEN).

Carlos Erik Malpica Flores is the former National Treasurer and former Vice President of Finance for PDVSA.

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