U.S. Targets Venezuelan Electoral, Media Officials in New Sanctions

Updated on
  • Treasury cites October state elections marked by fraud
  • New Treasury sanctions freeze U.S. assets of 10 individuals
Venezuela Inches Closer to Dictatorship

The Trump administration slapped sanctions on 10 Venezuelan officials Thursday on allegations of corruption and rights violations after President Nicolas Maduro’s candidates swept nationwide state governor elections last month.

The individuals are associated with undermining electoral processes, media censorship, or corruption in Maduro’s administered food programs in Venezuela, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said in a statement. As a result of the Treasury’s action, all of the sanctioned individuals’ assets under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen and all U.S. citizens are prohibited from dealing with them.

Maduro’s allies claimed a landslide victory in October’s gubernatorial elections, while opposition candidates accused the government of election tampering and fraud. Since then, Venezuela’s legislative super body has moved to silence some of Maduro’s most strident critics -- stripping the parliamentary immunity of Freddy Guevara, vice president of the opposition-led National Assembly -- and approving legislation to clamp down on the media.

“As the Venezuelan government continues to disregard the will of its people, our message remains clear: the United States will not stand aside while the Maduro regime continues to destroy democratic order and prosperity in Venezuela,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.

The sanctions come just days before the cash-strapped government is summoning bondholders to the capital, Caracas, for talks to renegotiate its outstanding foreign debt.

OFAC Risks

Complicating the situation, many investors won’t risk violating U.S. sanctions to sit down with Venezuela’s top negotiator, Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who has been designated as a narcotics trafficker under the Kingpin Act. Furthermore, Trump administration sanctions imposed earlier this year prohibit Americans from receiving new bonds that Venezuela would issue as part of a restructuring.

Among the latest to be targeted are top officials from the Venezuela’s National Electoral Council including Vice President Sandra Oblitas Ruzza, rector Socorro Elizabeth Hernandez De Hernandez, and alternate Carlos Enrique Quintero Cuevas.

The sanctions also hit top officials from Venezuela’s all-powerful constituent assembly, or constituyente, which the U.S. and its regional allies deem an illegitimate institution packed with Maduro loyalists. Before the October vote, the constituyente stipulated that any successful candidate must submit to its authority; one opposition governor-elect refused and was promptly removed from office.

A day earlier, the constituyente passed legislation that allows the government to block any outlet or political party that broadcasts messages promoting “hate and intolerance.” Critics say the so-called anti-hate law gives the government further scope to crack down on dissent.

“Every day, the Maduro regime in Venezuela looks and acts more like the dictatorial Castro regime in Cuba,” U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, said applauding the sanctions.

In addition, top figures in Venezuela’s vast state media apparatus were targeted: Ernesto Emilio Villegas Poljak, recently appointed minister of culture and a former communications minister; and, Manuel Angel Fernandez Melendez, president of Venezuela’s National Telephone Company, known as CANTV.

— With assistance by Nathan Crooks

(Updates with sanctioned indiviuals, Rubio comments begining 6th paragraph.)
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