Venezuela Hit again by U.S. Sanctions: Next Cuba?

Anti-government demonstrator walks towards riot policemen during a protest in Caracas Photo: AP

On 26 July 2017, OFAC imposed a new wave of sanctions against Venezuela. The OFAC action blacklists 13 current or former senior officials of the Venezuelan Government.

The blacklisting focus on current and former officials of Venezuelan Government agencies which the U.S. Government holds responsible for the undermining of democracy, violence against opposition protesters and corruption. 

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

The newest round of restrictive measures preceded the July 30, 2017 National Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, or ANC) election orchestrated by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

According to the U.S. Government, the ANC is flawed as it endangers the rule of law and democratic traditions in Venezuela. The U.S. accuses that the ANC will be a surrogate for supporters of President Maduro’s government to forward their narrow self interests. It aims to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution and may choose to dissolve Venezuelan state institutions. 

To add insult to injury, on 31 July 2017, OFAC has also blacklisted  President Nicolas Maduro as a SDN, whereby all assets of Nicolas Maduro subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from dealing with him.  

Pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13692, signed by former President Obama, sanctions may be imposed against officials of the Government of Venezuela and others who undermine the rule of law and democracy. The ANC is the latest evidence of the ever deepening political crisis in Venezuela. 

Individuals Sanctioned
 Four senior officials of Venezuelan Government agencies that according to OFAC are actively pursuing the Constituent Assembly elections or otherwise undermining democracy or human rights in Venezuela:

  •  Tibisay Lucena Ramirez is the 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 is the head of the Presidential Commission for the National Constituent Assembly responsible for forming and operating the ANC process.  He is also the Minister of Education, the Sectoral Vice President of Social Development and the Revolution of Missions, and the former Executive Vice President of Venezuela. 
  • Tarek William Saab Halabi is Venezuela’s Ombudsman and President of Venezuela’s Republican Moral Council.  As the “People’s Defender,” it is ostensibly his role to stand up for human rights in Venezuela. 
  • Maria Iris Varela Rangel is a Member of Venezuela’s Presidential Commission for the National Constituent Assembly and the former Minister of the Penitentiary Service.
 Five current and former senior officials of those Venezuelan Government agencies responsible for the violence and repression:
  • Nestor Luis Reverol Torres is Venezuela’s Minister of Interior, Justice, and Peace. He is also the former Commander General of the Bolivarian National Guard and the former Director of Venezuela’s Anti-Narcotics Agency.  In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against Reverol for his participation in an international cocaine distribution conspiracy. 
  • Carlos Alfredo Perez Ampueda is the National Director of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Police and former Commander of the Carabobo Zone for Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard.
  •  Sergio Jose Rivero Marcano is the Commander General of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard and the former Commander of the East Integral Strategic Defense Region of Venezuela’s National Armed Forces. 
  • Jesus Rafael Suarez Chourio is the General Commander of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Army and the former Commander of Venezuela’s Central Integral Strategic Defense Region of Venezuela’s National Armed Forces.  In addition, Suarez was formerly the leader of the Venezuelan President’s Protection and Security Unit.
  •  Franklin Horacio Garcia Duque is the former National Director of the Bolivarian National Police and the former Commander of the West Integral Strategic Defense Region of Venezuela’s National Armed Forces.
Finally, Venezuelan Government corruption is associated heavily – but by no means exclusively – with two government entities.  The first of these is Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), from which approximately $11 billion went missing between 2004 and 2014, according to news accounts of a report by a Venezuelan congressional commission.  Another significant engine of corruption in Venezuela involves the black market surrounding the official exchange rate regime set by the National Center for Foreign Commerce (Centro Nacional de Comercio Exterior, or CENCOEX). 
  •  Rocco Albisinni Serrano is the President of CENCOEX. 
  • Alejandro Antonio Fleming Cabrera is the Vice Minister for Europe of Venezuela’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the former President of CENCOEX. 
  • Simon Alejandro Zerpa Delgado is the Vice President of Finance for PDVSA and the President of Venezuela’s Economic and Social Development Bank (BANDES), and the President of Venezuela’s National Development Fund (FONDEN).  He is the former Vice Minister of Investment for Development of Venezuela’s Ministry of Economy and Finance and the current or former Presidential Commissioner to the Joint Chinese Venezuelan Fund.
  • Carlos Erik Malpica Flores is the former National Treasurer and former Vice President of Finance for PDVSA. 

The big question is whether U.S. unilateral sanctions will be effective. It is undisputed that the Maduro Government has contributed to the ongoing crisis and suffering of the Venezuelan people.

However, Maduro and his cronies might use the sanctions to rally around the flag and accuse the U.S. of imperialism. This might reinforce the move towards a Cuban styled authoritarian regime, whereby Maduro seeks support of countries to support it’s increasingly thrust towards a despotic regime.

This might also increase the pressure on the opposition to seek support to thwart a plunge towards authoritarianism – e.g. international support to create a parallel government against President Maduro. This might eventually turn into violence or even a civil war.  

Tragically, to be continued…. 

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