The U.S. State Department plans to appoint a new leader to the U.S. embassy in Venezuela amid increasing tensions with the beleaguered South American nation.
Todd D. Robinson, the former U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, has been chosen to lead the embassy in Caracas, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, told the Miami Herald.
The decision comes at a critical time for U.S. relations with Venezuela. The Trump Administration has sanctioned dozens of Venezuelans in recent months, including President Nicolás Maduro, whom Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has labeled a “dictator.” In August, the U.S. also imposed economic sanctions against Venezuela, banning debt trades for bonds issued by the government and its state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA.
Ros-Lehtinen expressed confidence in Robinson’s ability to represent U.S. interests in Venezuela. “He’s for freedom, democracy, the rule of law, separation of powers. He gets it,” Ros-Lehtinen said on Tuesday shortly after meeting with Robinson. “We told him, ‘Sanction more people, that’s the best thing that we can do. Get those thugs to not be able to come to the U.S.’”
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Robinson served as U.S. ambassador to Guatemala for three years, where he earned a reputation for being tough on corruption. He was a vocal supporter of a United Nations anti-corruption panel that has accused Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales of breaking campaign finance laws. Robinson also criticized Guatemalan lawmakers in September for a congressional decree, which was later withdrawn, that would have decreased penalties for illegal election financing.
“Years of malnutrition, insecurity, crime, corruption. Congress? No action. Amazing how fast they act to protect selves from prosecution,” Robinson tweeted in response to the decree.
Robinson’s appointment has not yet been officially announced. The State Department did not respond to a request for confirmation Tuesday afternoon.
Robinson will serve as chargé d’affaires in Venezuela, according to a congressional aide — the highest-ranking official in the embassy in the absence of an ambassador. He will have the rank of ambassador, however, because of his previous position in Guatemala.