What US sanctions would be most effective in maximizing pressure on President Maduro’s government while minimizing repercussions for the Venezuelan people?
The Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center and Global Energy Center assess options for the United States in considering a ratcheting up of sanctions.
With the opening of a constituent assembly on August 4, Venezuela has entered a critical new period of upheaval. The July 30 vote to elect assembly members went forward despite the illegitimacy of the vote and massive protests; government-reported results were widely deemed to be inflated. This new 545-member body is set to eliminate the last remaining democratic checks that exist.
Prior to the July vote, President Donald Trump condemned Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as an aspiring “dictator” and threatened “strong and swift economic action” if constituent assembly elections moved forward. President Maduro was not fazed. On July 31, the United States imposed financial sanctions on President Maduro himself, who became the fourth sitting head of state currently under sanction, joining Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. These recent sanctions are likely to mark the start of an incremental enactment of harsher economic penalties aimed at compelling Maduro to change paths.
Additional Targeted US Sanctions
To date, US efforts to pressure President Maduro’s government to respect civil and political rights have focused on individuals. In March 2015, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13692 (EO 13692)—renewed the following year—which adhered to and expanded on the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. The order declared a national emergency based on the threat that the situation in Venezuela posed to the United States and imposed sanctions on seven government officials following the erosion of human rights and crackdown on the political opposition. Those sanctions were specific to individuals, blocking property held that was subject to US jurisdiction, and targeted neither the Venezuelan economy nor its people.
In February 2017, the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami and an associate based on evidence of their prominent role in international drug trafficking. In May 2017, the Trump administration used EO 13692 to impose individual sanctions on eight members of the Venezuelan Supreme Court for annulling the opposition-led and democratically-elected National Assembly, and in July, this executive order was used to sanction thirteen government officials accused of undermining democracy, corruption, and leading acts of violence against protestors.
Given the deep rupture of the democratic order in Venezuela and the likelihood of further anti-democratic actions including government-supported acts of violence, what US sanctions would be most effective in maximizing pressure on President Maduro’s government while minimizing repercussions for the Venezuelan people?
Recent US sanctions are likely to mark
the start of an incremental enactment of harsher economic penalties.