Former presidents to denounce Venezuela, but blame U.S. for sanctions distraction

On Thursday, two dozen former heads of state will use the 7th Summit of the Americas to present a letter denouncing human rights violations in Venezuela. But on Wednesday, they were aiming their fire at the U.S. sanctions that they say have given Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro a chance to dodge the serious issues hounding his country.

A White House executive order issued last month called Venezuela a threat to national security and denied visas to and froze the assets of seven officials. The Obama administration has said the language was boilerplate requirement to enact the sanctions.

But former Bolivan President Jorge Quiroga (2001-2002) said the language was incendiary.

“I have seen plenty of people in Colombia, Bolivia and Honduras who have had their visas taken away and Miami assets frozen without any grandiose threat or declaration,” he told the Miami Herald. “Claiming that an entire country is a threat allows Mr. Maduro to distract from the issues.”

The summit, which begins in earnest on Friday, is focused around the theme of social inclusion but Venezuela is trying to using the hemispheric megaphone to denounce the sanctions, which it calls a violation of its sovereignty.

On Wednesday, at an event for civil society, Cuban and Venezuelan protesters gathered around the convention center chanting against the U.S. blockade of the island and the more recent measure against Caracas.

Quiroga will be joining former presidents and the wives of Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma — two jailed Venezuelan politicians — to highlight the country’s human right’s record.

The threats in Venezuela are real, Quiroga said, but they have little to do with the United States.

“Mr. Maduro and the regime are a threat to workers in Venezuela whose pockets are being eaten away by inflation, he’s a threat to mothers in Venezuela who can’t walk down the street without muggers and thieves jumping on them,” he said. “He’s a threat to people who can’t go to the bathroom because they don’t have toilet paper.”

Calling a nation an “extraordinary” threat to national security, as the executive order did, is particularly resonant in Panama, a country the United State invaded in 1989 to depose Gen. Manuel Noriega.

“There was language that called Panama a threat to national security,” Quiroga said, “and the United States invaded and knocked over Noriega.”