U.S. Sanctions Venezuelan Supreme Court

Anti-government protesters cover themselves with shields during riots in Caracas April 17, 2014. REUTERS/Christian Veron

It’s worth noting that the woes surrounding Venezuela increased when on 18-05-2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s OFAC slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia or TSJ and Constitutional Chamber TSJ-C).

OFAC designated eight members of the TSJ, under OFAC’s Venezuela related sanctions (for their contribution to undermining the Venezuelan democratic process). Specifically, the black-listings are based on Executive Order 13692, which impose both a travel ban (into the U.S.) and freeze all assets (subject to U.S. jurisdiction) of the blacklisted judges. As a result, all U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with these persons.

Names of Blacklisted Judges
The eight officials are:

  1. the President of Venezuela’s TSJ, Maikel Jose Moreno Perez,
  2. the seven principal members of the TSJ’s Constitutional Chamber (La Sala Constitucional del TSJ or TSJ-C):
    1. Juan Jose Mendoza Jover (Second Vice President of the TSJ and President of the TSJ-C);
    2. Arcadio de Jesus Delgado Rosales (Vice President of the TSJ-C);
    3. Gladys Maria Gutierrez Alvarado (Magistrate of the TSJ-C and former President of the TSJ);
    4. Carmen Auxiliadora Zuleta de Merchan (Magistrate of the TSJ-C);
    5. Luis Fernando Damiani Bustillos (Magistrate of the TSJ-C);
    6. Lourdes Benicia Suarez Anderson (Magistrate of the TSJ-C); and
    7. Calixto Antonio Ortega Rios (Magistrate of the TSJ-C).

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, left, with Maikel Moreno, the president of the country’s Supreme Court, in Caracas on Friday. Credit Reuters

In March 2015, former President Obama, adopted Executive Order 13692 to address the U.S.’ displeasure concerning those parties or individuals linked to undermining Venezuela’s democratic process and endemic corruption. Specifically, the Executive Order authorizes the imposition of sanctions for the following (Section 1): 

(A) to be responsible for or complicit in, or responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, or to have participated in, directly or indirectly, any of the following in or in relation to Venezuela:

(1) actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions;

(2) significant acts of violence or conduct that constitutes a serious abuse or violation of human rights, including against persons involved in anti-government protests in Venezuela in or since February 2014;

(3) actions that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or peaceful assembly; or

(4) public corruption by senior officials within the Government of Venezuela;

(B) to be a current or former leader of an entity that has, or whose members have, engaged in any activity described in subsection (a)(ii)(A) of this section or of an entity whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order;

(C) to be a current or former official of the Government of Venezuela;

(D) to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of:

(1) a person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; or 

(2) an activity described in subsection (a)(ii)(A) of this section; or

(E) to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order. (b) The prohibitions in subsection (a) of this section apply except to the extent provided by statutes, or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted prior to the effective date of this order. 

Although it might be the first time that OFAC blacklists supreme judges of a sovereign nation, the U.S. justifies it’s actions on the TSJ’s involvement in the country’s politics.

OFAC stated that the restrictive measures are a direct response to an incident early in the year, in which the TSJ annulled the nation’s democratically elected National Assembly, which is controlled by Venezuela’s opposition party.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor images of looted supermarket in caracas

People queue to buy staple items outside state-run Bicentenario supermarket in Caracas. Photo: Reuters

In it’s press release, OFAC states that “The Venezuelan people are suffering from a collapsing economy brought about by their government’s mismanagement and corruption.  Members of the country’s Supreme Court of Justice have exacerbated the situation by consistently interfering with the legislative branch’s authority,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin.  “By imposing these targeted sanctions, the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country.” 

According to OFAC, in the past year, the TSJ issued a number of rulings which interfered with or limited the democratic authority of the National Assembly. For instance:

  • In January 2017, the TSJ-C ruled that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro would give his annual address to the TSJ and not the National Assembly, as it states in the Constitution. 
  • In December 2016, the TSJ-C appointed members of the National Electoral Council, a constitutional duty of the National Assembly. 
  • In October 2016, the TSJ-C declared that the Venezuelan Executive Branch was exempt from submitting the budget to the National Assembly, as required by the Constitution, and ruled that the budget would instead be submitted to the TSJ-C. 
  • In multiple rulings issued between July 2016 and January 2017, the TSJ-C, instead of the National Assembly, has repeatedly renewed an extension of a state of emergency, a function that allows for the temporary restriction of constitutional rights, at the request of the Executive Branch.
  • Additionally, the TSJ-C has issued rulings that limit the ability of the National Assembly to conduct its constitutional duties. 
    • In September 2016, the TSJ-C declared that certain acts of the National Assembly are absolutely null and void. 
    • Most recently, in late March 2017, the TSJ-C issued two decisions that drew widespread criticism from the international community, as well as from the Venezuelan people and from within the Venezuelan government.  The decisions stripped parliamentary immunity from members of the National Assembly and allowed the TSJ-C to assume the legislative role.  Although these decisions were partially reversed following the significant backlash that resulted, the other described TSJ-C decisions remain in effect and show a long-term effort to negate the authority of the legislative branch and subvert the will of the Venezuelan people.   

The TSJ’s ruling which remains a bulwark of loyalists to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, justified the takeover by claiming that the National Assembly was in contempt of its rulings. The court ultimately sought to authorize President Maduro’s oil joint ventures by bypassing congressional approval.

Bolívar notes on the floor of a looted supermarket in Caracas. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

It is obvious that the current Venezuelan Government is mismanaging the country’s economy. Its questionable whether the opposition could do better, for that matter.

It is sad to see what the effects are of an incompetent political class to such a once vibrant country. In this context, the move of the judiciary to support President Maduro’s regime, which should be independent, is completely unjustified. 

Sadly, this saga is to be continued… 


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