President Trump has said that the US will impose “strong and swift” sanctions on Venezuela if its president Nicolás Maduro carries out his plan to create a “constituent assembly”, which could rewrite the country’s constitution. It is reported that the White House is considering a number of possible new sanctions, including banning imports of Venezuelan oil, listing more government officials, and cutting diplomatic ties.
The US has sanctioned the President of Venezuela’s Supreme Court and 7 of its other judges. U.S. officials said the sanctions were a response to an incident in March in which the Supreme Court annulled Venezuela’s democratically elected National Assembly, which is controlled by Venezuela’s opposition party.
The sanctions freeze their assets, and prohibit US persons from doing business with them. In the US Treasury’s press release, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that “the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country”. The details of the listings are here.
OFAC has designated Venezuela’s Executive Vice President, Tareck El Aissami, as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker. He is said to have facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, and in previous positions to have overseen narcotics shipments from Venezuela of over 1000kg on multiple occasions. His primary frontman Samark Lopez Bello has also been designated as an SDNT, along with his international network of companies, for his role in laundering drug proceeds and generating significant illicit profits on behalf of El Aissami. The details are here, and OFAC’s press release is here.
The US Senate has approved a bill that would renew US targeted sanctions against Venezuela, which came into force in 2014, for a further 3 years (see previous blog). The bill still requires approval from the House of Representatives and President to become law.
The sanctions impose asset freezes and travel bans on current and former Venezuelan officials said to have been involved in the violence and human rights abuses against anti-government protestors that started in 2014 or in the arrest or prosecution of people exercising freedom of expression or assembly, and people who have assisted in those acts. In a statement after the vote, co-sponsor of the legislation Senator Marco Rubio stated that the sanctions were still necessary because “the Maduro regime continues to violate human rights and expand its political oppression”.
On 9 March 2015, the US Treasury Department announced that it has designated seven individuals as Specially Designated Nationals (‘SDN’) in view of the situation in Venezuela. The designations are made pursuant to an Executive Order and target individuals alleged to be involved in violence against anti-government protestors, serious human rights abuses, and the arrest or prosecution of individuals for their legitimate exercise of free speech.
Under the sanctions, listed individuals and entities will be barred from entering the United States, will have all of their assets within United States jurisdiction frozen, and US persons will generally be prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.
The individuals listed include the director general of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Intelligence Service and the director of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Police. They are:
- Antonio Benavides
- Manuel Bernal
- Gustavo Gonzalez
- Katherine Haringhton
- Justo Noguera
- Manuel Perez
- Miguel Vivas
Speaking on 9 March 2015, US Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew stated that the United States is “committed to defending human rights and advancing democratic governance in Venezuela through the use of financial sanctions”, adding that “Corrupt actions by Venezuelan government officials deprive Venezuela of needed economic resources that could be invested in the Venezuelan people and used to spur economic growth”. Secretary Lew also emphasised that “This Executive Order will be used to protect the US financial system from the illicit financial flows from public corruption in Venezuela”.