Trump's Muscular Venezuela Policy Could End Maduro's Dictatorship

COMMENTARY Americas

Trump's Muscular Venezuela Policy Could End Maduro's Dictatorship

Sep 28th, 2017 6 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Ana Quintana

Policy Analyst, Latin America and the Western Hemisphere

Ana Rosa Quintana leads The Heritage Foundation’s U.S. policy efforts toward Latin America.

Key Takeaways

Venezuela today is a sea of misery. In midst of a humanitarian crisis and more, Maduro continues to plunder the nation for his personal gain.

The Trump administration has not been shy about confronting this corrupt regime. It has rallied a once reluctant region to hold Maduro’s feet to the fire.

Yet, even more can be done to bring pressure to bear on Maduro and his cronies. The countries facilitating their criminality must be discouraged.

Nicolas Maduro’s autocratic regime is descending into dictatorship. Whatever legitimacy the Venezuelan still retains will disappear as of July 30. That’s when he will hold an unconstitutional referendum to elect a constituent assembly of political cronies to rewrite the constitution.

Much like the communal, executive power-centric systems set up in Cuba and the Soviet Union, this next constitution will give absolute power to the Maduro and his cadre of sycophants.

Venezuela today is a sea of misery. Although he is confronted with a humanitarian crisis, an economy in freefall, a paltry 15 percent approval rating and more than three months of unrelenting protests, Maduro continues to plunder the nation for his personal gain.

What is life like for ordinary Venezuelans? Food scarcity and starvation is commonplace. Infant mortality rates are at sub-Saharan Africa levels, and the healthcare system is paralyzed.

Intensifying protests have continued for more than 100 days. In that time, Maduro’s thugs have killed more than 100 innocent demonstrators. Images of armored vehicles confronting protesters with tear gas and live fire have become commonplace.

The Trump administration has not been shy about confronting this corrupt regime. It has rallied a once reluctant region to hold Maduro’s feet to the fire. For the first time ever, a 20-country strong coalition supporting a change in Venezuela now exists at the Organization of American States(OAS).

The administration has also gone after the corruptocrats in Caracas. It has sanctioned Venezuela’s vice president as a drug kingpin, seizing hundreds of millions illicitly obtained dollars and assets hidden in the United States.

It also sanctioned eight members of the Venezuelan Supreme Court — including the chief justice — following their decision to illegally assume the powers of the National Assembly and negotiate a deal allowing Russia’s Rosneft to assume a greater stake in Venezuela’s national oil company PDVSA. Their assets in the U.S. have been confiscated and travel visas terminated.

This week, the Trump administration expanded sanctions to 13 current and former Venezuelan government officials directly involved in the human rights violations and destruction of Venezuela’s democracy.

Yet, even more can be done to bring pressure to bear on Maduro and his cronies. The countries facilitating their criminality must be discouraged. The leaders of El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua should not be receiving preferential foreign aid from the U.S. while also propping up Maduro’s burgeoning dictatorship.

And Cuba’s leadership must pay a heavy price for its role in Venezuela’s demise. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro aptly describes the “15,000 Cubans in Venezuela,” as “an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela.” Successfully confronting Maduro requires punishing his masters in Havana.

In the unlikely event that the Maduro regime agrees to a dialogue, the Trump administration must avoid repeating the mistakes made by the Obama administration. Premature removal of pressure will only give the Maduro regime more breathing room in which it will continue to prey on the Venezuelan people.

Should Maduro follow through with the unlawful and illegitimate referendum, there must be a heavy price to pay. All diplomatic and economic tools should be on table, even consideration for the temporary suspensions of oil refining and U.S. oil purchases and sales.

The Trump administration should also prepare another round of sanctions against individuals. Venezuela is a target-rich environment with many government and party officials directly involved in corruption, the drug trade, human rights violations and support for terrorist groups. The U.S. must hit Maduro and his pals where it hurts the most — in their pocketbooks.

Meanwhile, Congress must recognize the need to expand humanitarian assistance in order to alleviate the crisis. Innocent Venezuelans are bearing the brunt of government-created shortages of food, medicine, and medical supplies. Legislation like the Senate’s bipartisan Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act would help ease their suffering.

Most importantly, the White House must be unwilling to accept as legitimate any government created by the constituent assembly arising from the bogus referendum planned by Maduro. Democracy is on the march in South America. The Venezuelan strongman must not be allowed to bring it to a halt.

What is life like for ordinary Venezuelans? Food scarcity and starvation is commonplace. Infant mortality rates are at sub-Saharan Africa levels, and the healthcare system is paralyzed.

Intensifying protests have continued for more than 100 days. In that time, Maduro’s thugs have killed more than 100 innocent demonstrators. Images of armored vehicles confronting protesters with tear gas and live fire have become commonplace.

The Trump administration has not been shy about confronting this corrupt regime. It has rallied a once reluctant region to hold Maduro’s feet to the fire. For the first time ever, a 20-country strong coalition supporting a change in Venezuela now exists at the Organization of American States(OAS).

The administration has also gone after the corruptocrats in Caracas. It has sanctioned Venezuela’s vice president as a drug kingpin, seizing hundreds of millions illicitly obtained dollars and assets hidden in the United States.

It also sanctioned eight members of the Venezuelan Supreme Court — including the chief justice — following their decision to illegally assume the powers of the National Assembly and negotiate a deal allowing Russia’s Rosneft to assume a greater stake in Venezuela’s national oil company PDVSA. Their assets in the U.S. have been confiscated and travel visas terminated.

This week, the Trump administration expanded sanctions to 13 current and former Venezuelan government officials directly involved in the human rights violations and destruction of Venezuela’s democracy.

Yet, even more can be done to bring pressure to bear on Maduro and his cronies. The countries facilitating their criminality must be discouraged. The leaders of El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua should not be receiving preferential foreign aid from the U.S. while also propping up Maduro’s burgeoning dictatorship.

And Cuba’s leadership must pay a heavy price for its role in Venezuela’s demise. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro aptly describes the “15,000 Cubans in Venezuela,” as “an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela.” Successfully confronting Maduro requires punishing his masters in Havana.

In the unlikely event that the Maduro regime agrees to a dialogue, the Trump administration must avoid repeating the mistakes made by the Obama administration. Premature removal of pressure will only give the Maduro regime more breathing room in which it will continue to prey on the Venezuelan people.

Should Maduro follow through with the unlawful and illegitimate referendum, there must be a heavy price to pay. All diplomatic and economic tools should be on table, even consideration for the temporary suspensions of oil refining and U.S. oil purchases and sales.

The Trump administration should also prepare another round of sanctions against individuals. Venezuela is a target-rich environment with many government and party officials directly involved in corruption, the drug trade, human rights violations and support for terrorist groups. The U.S. must hit Maduro and his pals where it hurts the most — in their pocketbooks.

Meanwhile, Congress must recognize the need to expand humanitarian assistance in order to alleviate the crisis. Innocent Venezuelans are bearing the brunt of government-created shortages of food, medicine, and medical supplies. Legislation like the Senate’s bipartisan Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act would help ease their suffering.

Most importantly, the White House must be unwilling to accept as legitimate any government created by the constituent assembly arising from the bogus referendum planned by Maduro. Democracy is on the march in South America. The Venezuelan strongman must not be allowed to bring it to a halt.

This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 7/28/17