U.S. sanctions Venezuelan Supreme Court judges

The Trump administration revealed new sanctions against members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Thursday. The U.S. has sanctioned Venezuelan leaders before, but always in connection with drug trafficking. In this case, the sanctions are a response to the Court’s attempt to take over the constitutional responsibilities of the opposition-run National Assembly back in March. That move was dubbed a coup by many inside and outside Venezuela and was reversed a few days later after large protests. From the Miami Herald:

“They call it the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, and it’s packed — literally packed —with puppets who do [Maduro’s] bidding,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said on the Senate floor Wednesday, urging for sanctions.

Targeted by the Treasury Department sanctions are [Supreme Court President Maikel] Moreno and the seven principal members of the court’s Constitutional Chamber: Juan José Mendoza, Arcadio de Jesús Delgado, Gladys Gutiérrez, Carmen Zuleta de Merchán, Luis Fernando Damiani Bustillos, Lourdes Benicia Suárez Anderson and Calixto Ortega.

Miami is home to the largest Venezuelan community in the U.S., and Venezuelan government officials are known to keep assets in — and frequently travel to — South Florida and Orlando on vacation. Past sanctions have denied members of the Venezuelan government travel visas and frozen their U.S. bank accounts, properties and corporate entities.

Meanwhile, things seem to be spiraling further out of control. President Maduro sent 2,000 troops to the western state of Tachira to quell protests and looting. Wednesday a man was shot and killed by National Guard members while walking home with diapers he had just purchased. From Reuters:

Most shops in San Cristobal, a traditional hotbed of anti-government militancy, were closed on Thursday, with long lines at the few establishments open.

In Caracas, protesters sought to march to the Interior and Justice Ministry but were blocked on a major highway by security forces firing tear gas and using armored vehicles. That sparked now-familiar scenes of masked youths brandishing shields and throwing stones at the security line.

Finally, it seems the socialist government is attempting to silence another opposition leader. Henrique Capriles was President Maduro’s opponent in the election that took place after the death of Hugo Chavez. He has remained one of the faces of the opposition ever since. Recently the government announced that he would be prevented from running for office for 15 years. Thursday, Capriles’ passport was confiscated when he tried to get on a plane for New York where he was scheduled to visit the United Nations:

“My passport is valid until 2020. What they want to do here is avoid us going to the United Nations,” Capriles said, before returning to the capital to join a protest march.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, was due to meet with Capriles in New York on Friday.

“Hope (Capriles’) passport removal is not reprisal linked to planned meeting with me tomorrow,” Zeid said on Twitter.

The ruling socialists will invent some excuse for why this happened but there’s really no doubt what this was about. President Maduro’s government is under intense pressure domestically and internationally. Preventing Capriles from speaking to the UN is an attempt to keep that pressure from increasing.

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