The Trump administration plans to announce new sanctions against Venezuela next week, the U.S. Special representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, told a Miami audience on Friday.
While Abrams did not specify who, of what entities would be targeted, he hinted in an interview with Univision News that they could be related to events in Caracas last weekend when the regime of Nicolas Maduro sought to mount a parliamentary coup to prevent the re-election of the popular opposition-leader Juan Guaido as head of the National Assembly.
“There will be additional sanctions next week,” he said during a panel discussion on ‘Venezuela: What to Do?’ the ‘State of the World’ at Florida International University. “We are exploring other ways to put pressure on the regime,” he added.
Since taking office President Donald Trump has steadily ratcheted up pressure on the Maduro regime with sanctions targeting his inner circle and military leaders designed to punish corruption and cut off revenue from the once oil-rich South American nation which has seen its economy fall apart under two decades of socialist rule. However, on Thursday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to hold out an olive branch to Maduro, saying that “negotiations could open the path out of the crisis through a transitional government that will organize free and fair elections.”
Some analysts took that to mean that the White House is backing away from its aggressive policy of seeking the immediate removal of Maduro from power. The Trump’s administration has been skeptical of Norway-mediated talks involving representatives of Maduro and Guaido.
Abrams said that the U.S. would continue to use sanctions as a tool to bring about a democratic transition in Venezuela. A commitment to free and fair elections was not something “that will fall from the sky,” added Abrams, noting that both negotiations – and sanctions – were needed to force the Maduro regime to allow a return a democratic rule.
While Abrams said he would not discuss details of the new sanctions, he told Univision News that the Trump administration was seeking to identify those persons responsible for the bribery of some former opposition members of the National Assembly, with as much as $500,000 each, as part of Maduro’s effort to retake control the opposition-dominated legislative body at the weekend. One of the possible targets could be Luis Parra, a former opposition deputy who is accused of taking political bribe money. Parra sought to be sworn in as Assembly president on Sunday after soldiers prevented Guaido, and deputies loyal to him, from entering the building.
“This was a move of desperation,” said Abrams. “The regime was counting votes … and they couldn’t intimidate or bribe enough people,” so they were forced to resort to strong-arm tactics, he added.
Maduro has called Guaido a U.S.-backed puppet and blames the United States for the economic catastrophe that has forced millions to flee the country.
The National Assembly has been a thorn on Maduro’s side ever since Guaido was elected as Speaker a year ago, making him the interim president of Venezuela in the eyes of the democratic world after Maduro’s term ended in January last year.
Maduro still calls himself the legitimate president and continues to exercise power in Venezuela, thanks to the support of the military and countries like Russia, China and cuba. But more than 50 countries did not recognize his re-election in 2018 due to allegations of massive fraud.