Trump administration officials last week announced targeted sanctions of four Venezuelan nationals for violations of human rights and corrupt behavior. This latest announcement brings the total number of sanctioned Venezuelan nationals to 44. That figure includes the regime’s two top leaders, Nicolas Maduro and Tareck El Aissami.
The targeted sanctions approach started in 2015 during the Obama administration, but it has taken on a new dimension since President Trump took office. President Trump’s re-orientation of U.S. policy toward Latin America especially toward rogue regimes such as Cuba and Venezuela was a much-needed shift. An America First vision for the Americas has put allies and adversaries on notice. That is good.
For the Venezuela matter, complementing increased targeted sanctions include a series of talks that include officials from the Organization of American States (OAS), the Venezuelan opposition, and other Latin American nations. There are also other efforts underway to bring stakeholders to a negotiated solution. I’m skeptical, yet the talks should be given a chance. Reality is that the Cubans, Russians, and the Chinese are going to make it very difficult to broker anything of value to help advance U.S. national interests.
In a statement released with the new targeted sanctions announcement, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said “Maduro and his inner circle continue to put their own interests above those of the Venezuelan people. This action underscores the United States’ resolve to hold Maduro and others engaged in corruption in Venezuela accountable. We call on concerned parties and international partners around the world to join us as we stand with the Venezuelan people to further isolate this oppressive regime.”
Based on discussions I’ve had with several Venezuelan expats in a position to know more than a thing or two about managing large businesses, energy sector experts, as well as policy watchers who follow the Andean region, I think that Venezuela will be lost permanently unless supporters of liberty find another way forward that does not include the Maduro-El Aissami leadership crew.
The targeted sanctions are pinpricks. Much more aggressive and robust sanctions are possible and have been discussed for at least six years by Washington, DC policymakers. However, it was the opposition that opposed more stringent measures because they’d been convinced by liberal D.C.-based think tank experts that a negotiated outcome with the socialist regime was possible. That is a pipe dream.
If the opposition wants a Venezuela that remains a socialist state, then keep negotiating away. Allow the Cuban advisors to stay in Cuba playing the puppet master. However, if the opposition wants a republic based on free markets and one where individual fundamental liberties are respected, they must find another approach. The talks do not appear to be working. They are making matters worse.
Up until now, Uncle Sam has been patient and deferential to opposition concerns and ideas, but America cannot afford the Venezuela crisis to adversely impact U.S. equities in the Andean region and beyond. What is their vision for a free Venezuela? Do they plan to hold regime officials accountable? What is their roadmap for Venezuela’s transition back to democratic rule? Without answers to these and related questions the opposition will remain in brackish political waters.
To their credit, Trump administration officials have done a lot more to advance the cause of liberty in the Andean region than the combined efforts of both the Bush and Obama administrations. They inherited an economic and political bramble that will take time to unravel. The Venezuela crisis developed over a span of years and included a U.S. policy best characterized as curious ambivalence. It was compounded by President Obama’s disgraceful embracing of two dictators in the region. Russia, China, and Iran meddling have also been a factor.
The four people that were sanctioned by Uncle Sam on Friday include senior military officers. The designations will help highlight the current corruption and repression under the Maduro regime. It will also put potential investors on notice to be mindful who they do business with because they may end up sanctioned by the United States. You can read more about the designations at the Department of the Treasury website.
While the economic sanctions are an essential tool, they are just that tools. There must also be political will by the opposition to take bold steps to do more to advance the cause of liberty. Without liberty, elections are a colossal waste of time. The United States can impose targeted economic sanctions for years to come and, I can just about guarantee, the regime will find ways to survive.
If the Venezuelan opposition wants traction, make bold demands. For example, so long as thousands of Cuban intelligence and military advisors stay in Caracas, and throughout the country, Venezuela will never be free. Demand that Cubans leave Venezuela. Demand market-based trade for all oil sales. Until these and other opposition demands are met, the opposition should step away from talks. Venezuela will never be free so long as Cuba, Russia, China, and to a lesser extent Iran and other adversaries have some say in the process. So long as Venezuela engages in non-market based trade with Cuba, such as oil for doctors and advisors, Venezuela will never be free.
The Venezuelan government is a criminal enterprise in which current and former government officials pillage national treasure to advance a failed socialist scheme supported by Cuba, Russia, and other meddlers in the Americas. It will take a lot more than sanctions to dismember it. The opposition should urge the United States, Lima Group members, and the OAS to impose a regional boycott on all non-market based trade to Venezuela. They should be prepared to escalate the boycott to a full embargo.
Finally, the unprecedented regional cooperation amongst parties from diverse national and ideological background would not be possible but for the leadership of President Trump and Vice President Pence. How they help fix the Venezuela matter will impact well beyond the Andean region. Efforts are underway to unmask other rogue regimes and adversaries in the United States. Venezuela is just the start. There are challenges in Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and elsewhere.