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To Venezuela, This Week’s Sanctions Are A Joke

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To Venezuela, This Week’s Sanctions Are A Joke


Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.


This week, the Trump administration took the rare step of declaring Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a “dictator,” freezing his assets and banning Americans from doing business with him.

It looked like a big deal. Phones pinged with alerts, and cable news channels carried the announcement live. Maduro was now the fourth member of an exclusive club of sanctioned dictators, joining Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

“Maduro is not just a bad leader; he is now a dictator,” President Donald Trump said in a statement.

I watched this movie again and again in the three years I spent covering Venezuela for the Associated Press. It’s always the same script and the same ending: Maduro blasts the U.S. for its attempted meddling, then goes back to the business of presiding over his country’s economic collapse.

This time around, the U.S. tried to punish Maduro by freezing his American assets; he has none. It forbid Americans from doing business with him as an individual — something he hasn’t seemed interested in doing — but still allowed them to contract with Venezuela as a country.

“Maduro’s going to have a good laugh with this,” said David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela. “It’s not going to amount to a lot.”

Venezuela is crossing clear lines. Maduro, the hand-picked successor to late President Hugo Chavez, has grown deeply unpopular since taking power in 2013. People are hungry. Hospitals are in ruins. Four months of daily protests have left more than 120 dead and brought on international condemnation. And over the weekend, Maduro dealt a potentially fatal blow to the country’s once-stable democracy:

He held an election creating a new, all-powerful congress stacked with his supporters. His wife was elected; so was his son. Streets were mostly empty the day of the election, but Maduro said 40 percent of the country voted. International elections observers were banned.

U.S. sanctions already in place didn’t stop any of this from happening. They’ve only helped Maduro argue that his country is in shambles not because of his own mismanagement, but because Americans are out to get him, sabotaging the economy at every turn.

Take what happened in 2015, when the Obama administration declared that Venezuela was “a threat to national security” and sanctioned seven top officials for human rights violations. Maduro, whose approval ratings had been dismal, got one of the biggest bumps of his presidency. The sanctions let him point to an example of imperialist bullying. People rallied around him against this outsider intrusion. Maduro rewarded all seven officials with promotions and covered the capital in anti-sanction billboards that still adorn parts of Caracas, looming over food lines and formations of riot police

The Obama administration saw how Maduro used the sanctions to his advantage and didn’t issue any more. The country’s economy continued to fall apart — three-quarters of Venezuelans were losing weight and 80 percent of medicines were in short supply.

With the arrival of the Trump administration this year, sanctions resumed.

Each time, they gave Maduro an opportunity to blame someone other than himself for the country’s descent.

When the U.S. sanctioned Venezuela’s vice president for alleged involvement in the drug trade, Maduro responded by giving his second-in-command even more power.

When the U.S. sanctioned members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court for abolishing its Congress, Maduro praised them in a public ceremony.

When the U.S. sanctioned more senior Venezuelan officials for corruption, Maduro gave them all special swords on live television.

So it makes sense that when U.S. Congress members and think tanks reacted to Monday’s sanctions by issuing stern statements, Venezuelans were mostly cracking jokes.

The U.S. hasn’t hit Maduro where it truly would hurt — the oil trade.

Almost all of Venezuela’s export revenue comes from oil, and the U.S. is its most important customer. An oil embargo would be as dramatic as Monday’s sanctions were anticlimactic. The Maduro administration might implode, and the country’s hunger crisis could escalate to famine.

The U.S. doesn’t necessarily want to drop that kind of a bomb. It doesn’t want to create a refugee crisis in a country three hours from Miami; already, Venezuela exports more asylum cases than any other nation. Not to mention, an embargo would hike gas prices for American drivers.

So for now, Maduro is thumbing his nose.

“Sanction anyone you want!” he shouted during an address on state television Monday. “The Venezuelan people have decided to be free, and I’ve decided to be the president of a free people.”

The camera panned to an audience of top officials, many sanctioned themselves, all applauding. A minister fiddled with an expensive-looking watch, then went back to clapping.

One thing about those other three men in the sanctioned-leader club: They’re all still in power, and living large. Last year Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe celebrated his 92nd birthday with a million-dollar party, and jetted around the world to places like Cancun and New York while his people starved.

Toward the end of his speech Monday, Maduro issued some sanctions of his own, on private television stations that had not given his Sunday election positive coverage, and said his opponents would get what was coming to them. Early Tuesday, the secret police arrested two high-profile opposition leaders and took them to military prison. Another line crossed.



  1. Dominick Vila August 3, 2017

    It is obvious by now that Nicolas Maduro is a dictator and a thug. I lived in Venezuela from 1946 to 1958, at a time when immigrants from all over the world flocked to Venezuela to benefit from its economic expansion and the opportunities it afforded to anyone willing to work hard. In those days, much of the native population lived in abject poverty, 52% of Venezuelans, the infrastructure was a disaster, and healthcare and education were substandard. There was, however, something that does not exist today hope for a better future. Following the fall of dictator General Perez Jimenez, subsequent administrations engaged in socio-economic endeavors that contributed to the modernization of Venezuela, tremendous improvements in education, healthcare, infrastructure, as well as foreign investment. Everything came to a halt when Hugo Chavez became President and nationalistic policies, including the nationalization of the oil industry, took place. The economy stalled, social unrest became the norm, and since Maduro became President following the death of Chavez, what was once a prosperous nation can’t even buy the most basic necessities. Having said all this, the U.S. will be well advised not to interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela, or any other Latin American country. The days to intervention in Central America and the Caribbean have not been forgotten, and remain a battle cry for millions of Latin Americans. We should let the OAS and the UN deal with Maduro and others like him. We don’t need their oil, which is high in sulfur and expensive to refine. Without their main source of income, Venezuela’s economy will collapse, and will eventually lead to the erosion of support that Maduro still enjoys in some quarters, especially the lower middle class and the poor.

    1. Alain Vercammen-Grandjean August 3, 2017

      Ho yes! If you don’t need their oil don’t interfere! What lapsus can do for you!

      Let them collapse. That is more humane! Almost christian.
      But then some people prefer to live collapsed than chained.

      1. Dominick Vila August 3, 2017

        I have more sympathy for Venezuela than you will ever dream. I lived there from 1946 to 1958, studied there, and have relatives and friends there. I recognize, however, that recent political events and the confrontational climate that exists between the USA and Venezuela makes it impossible for our government, regardless of who is in the WH, to offer viable solutions to that embattled country, and that if we intervene it will probably be to further de-stabilize it rather than help solve their socio-economic problems. With that in mind, the best thing for Venezuela is for us to stay out of their internal affairs and let them solve their internal problems. Make no mistake, if we get involved, the goal will be regime change. That should be up to the local population, not us. If in doubt, take a look at what is happening in Afghanistan, where we installed a puppet government that most Afghans don’t support, and remain intent on imposing our will on people determined to live the way their ancestors did. More often than not, the best thing a super power can do is stay the hell out of the internal affairs of other countries. Venezuelans, like most people, are proud of their country, their culture, and want to choose what is best for them without outsiders meddling in their internal affairs. As for oil, perhaps we should look at India, a country that is on track to transition to battery operated cars within a decade…while we insist on transporting Canadian shale oil and enjoying the “benefits” of coal.

        1. Alain Vercammen-Grandjean August 3, 2017

          I one hundred agree with you on non interference of the biggest military force in the world in any country more than you can dream.
          The Maduro crisis comes from Oil price collapse mainly.
          As for Afghanistan , it does not have Oil but Poppy.
          It is the biggest producer and growing as is its main market.
          I don’t have to name it.
          Things can be run with a little help of friends with transport means. I’ll mind my own business.

  2. ivory69690@yahoo.com August 3, 2017

    To Venezuela, This Week’s Sanctions Are A Joke ! true the that’s just the first part its gets a lot more funny the joke for the world to laugh at all but the USA our self with THE DONNY DUMP CLOWN SHOW now there’s the worlds biggest joke of all and all time !!

    1. Dapper Dan August 3, 2017

      The good news is this very bleak Presidency could quickly come to an end. Mueller has empaneled a Grand Jury and several people connected to the Russia probe are buying liability insurance to cover their sorry a$$. At this hour news is breaking as Trump is cracking. The latest revelation that his conversations with Mexico and Australia’s Presidents contradict what trump said

      1. ivory69690@yahoo.com August 4, 2017

        im thinking now DONNY DUMP when all hits the fan what he will do to save any part of his worthless self to try to get less charges he will be turning in every one he can . family ,cult brain washed and brain dead followers any and every one . all those he either told to lie or just knew he was lying . for all of them thy know the truth but it wont help then now IT WILL BE TOO LATE TO SAVE THEM SELFS . im thinking how many of them will be doing the same thing DUMPSTER DON will be doing to save them self’s ? another thing im sure DUMPSTER DONNY is doing now is getting all the INFO he can get on being mentally ill . he will be using this in his case for defense . he will play the form of mental retardation for his pathological liar self inflicted pleasure he loves to do always . the media and all the press should be asking the Pres. of Mexico for interviews all the ones from CNN ,MSNBC (if say FOX NEWS but then again there is enough clowns there with just the DUMPSTER DOMMY ) so many interviews of Mexico’s pres. keep asking him is he going to pay for the wall ? he will say NO OF COURSE . but with DUMPSTER DON sitting back and watching all the news show watching him (pres. of Mexico ) keep saying many times NO IM AND WE MEXICO WILL NOT PAY FOR THE DUMPSTER DONNY’S WALL !!!

        1. Dapper Dan August 4, 2017

          Today he leaves for a 17 day vacation. I’m curious if he can stay away from Twitter for the time he’s away. Nah ! ????

  3. johninPCFL August 3, 2017

    “Each time, they gave Maduro an opportunity to blame someone other than himself for the country’s descent.”: sounds just like the Current Resident, Agent Orange.

  4. ivory69690@yahoo.com August 4, 2017

    I’ve said this before Russia’s PUTTHEAD has something very big holding over DUMPSTER DONNYS head REAL BIG and it scare’s the living crap out of DONNY im

    thinking its something to do with the pervert DONNY DUMPSTER full of BULLSHIfT he is a sick mentally deranged clown a and a pervert in the biggest sense of the world . and what I truly feel PUTTHEAD is holding over the DUMPSTER DON is something to do with Child molestation to be something like that for it scares the crap out of the DUMPSTER DONNY . as for how much PUTTHEAD has well ill go by how scared DONNY is with never saying a bad world about the Russian Satan SON PUTTHEAD I would not be surprised if he had videos of DUMPSTER DOM molesting the children . there are things already on the internet about just that DUMPSTER DON and children . never mind him saying in an interview how he would love to bang his own daughter . while she was sitting right beside him as she just smiled and laughed . then there are the 12 women that came forward telling how DUMPSTER DONNY tried and heck did sexually assault them . him saying more of his pathological lying that he was going to sue all 12 .(and that just the ones that came forward one has to know there has to be many so many more . he lied about sueing them because he would lose and them all the other would then come forward ..


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