This week, President Barack Obama declared the government in Venezuela a threat to American national security.
“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of US financial systems,” said White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest. “Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent.”
He confirmed on Monday that the administration has imposed sanctions on several individuals in the government in Caracas.
The administration is “deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents,” Earnest said, and the nation’s economic problems “cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent.”
The sanctions target seven specific Venezuelan government officials who are involved in “violence against anti-government protesters,” or the “arrest or prosecution of individuals for their legitimate exercise of free speech,” said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
The United States is not seeking to punish the people of Venezuela or its overall economy, said Lew and other officials.
“The US sanctions target seven high-level military, police and government officials, who the White House says were involved in human rights abuses or corruption, including the director of the national police, the head of the intelligence service and a prosecutor who has charged opposition leaders with conspiracy,” The Guardian reported. “The inspector general of the armed forces was also included.”
For an American president who could not bring himself to make note of the tyrannical and corrupt way in which the late Hugo Chavez comported himself while in office following the former Venezuela leader’s death, reaching the conclusion that Nicolas Maduro’s government is no better must have been dispiriting.
For his part, Maduro reacted to the news of new U.S. sanctions by doing his best generalissimo impression, channeling the time honored language deployed by every vaguely socialist leader of banana republics from the Caribbean to the Gold Coast of Africa.
“President Barack Obama, representing the US imperialist elite, has personally decided to take on the task of defeating my government and intervening in Venezuela to control it,” Maduro said in an address to Venezuelans. “That’s why they have taken today’s measure.”
For all of America’s bending over backwards in order to join the rest of the world in welcoming communist Cuba into the community of nations, the government in Havana is apparently not prepared to jettison their allies in Caracas merely for the promise of a few American tourist dollars.
#BREAKING Cuba says gives its 'unconditional support' to Venezuela against US
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) March 10, 2015
Surely, this statement was timed in part to embarrass American political reporters and columnists like Time Magazine’s Karl Vick. Just hours ago, Vick submitted a steaming hot take in the form of a journalistic dispatch in which he postulated that Venezuela’s isolation was only possible as a result of Washington’s ill-fated thaw in tensions with Havana.
“[T]hanks to the ongoing rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba, Washington is less easy to ignore, especially on matters of morality and fair play,” Vick guessed.
Whether the sanctions will work remains to be seen. Under the Executive Order, U.S. financial institutions have 10 days to report any holdings controlled by the seven officials, and longer still to see if freezing them alters the behavior in what Transparency International calls the most corrupt country in the western hemisphere. But in diplomatic terms, the effects might be felt sooner. Before Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced their plans to reconcile, the Summit of the Americas, set to convene April 10 in Panama City, was sizing up as an awkward occasion for the U.S. leader. Instead, it may be Maduro who draws the sideways glances.
It seems as though the long-anticipated rapprochement between American and Cuban officials will not be a feature of this year’s Summit of the Americas. Maybe the bonds of socialist fraternity are stronger than the sophisticates crafting white papers in Washington-based think tanks supposed.