The United States’ use of sanctions to punish Venezuelan officials and strangle the economy is “absolutely working” and will remain a prime strategy for trying to force democratic change in the South American country, senior U.S. State Department officials said Monday.
Speaking to reporters about the Latin America trip of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that starts Thursday, the officials said they are beginning to see results of the plan, which has slapped sanctions on more than 50 current and former officials and bars U.S. financial institutions from dealing with Venezuelan debt.
“The financial sanctions that we have placed on the Venezuelan government [have] forced it to begin to default” on its sovereign debts, one official said on background. “And what we are seeing, because of the bad choices of the [President Nicolás] Maduro regime, is the total economic collapse in Venezuela.”
The official said the fact that Canada, the European Union and several Latin American nations have either implemented sanctions or are exerting pressure on Maduro are signs that Washington’s tack is the right one.
“Our strategy on Venezuela is extremely effective,” he said.
Tillerson is scheduled to travel to Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica from Feb. 1-7 to talk about immigration, trade — and how to deal with Venezuela.
Despite international condemnation and the sanctions, Maduro has continued to consolidate power amid the country’s economic collapse. Last week, the socialist administration announced it will be holding presidential elections before April 30.
The United States and others in the region say the electoral process in Venezuela is rigged and undemocratic. Along with sidelining prominent opposition rivals, Venezuela’s courts last week said the main opposition coalition, known as the MUD, would not be allowed to participate in the yet-to-be scheduled vote.
Venezuela, for its part, has long accused Washington of trying to topple the government and blames its growing economic woes — including food and medicine shortages, hyperinflation and widespread hunger — on foreign interference. It also considers the sanctions illegal.
Although Tillerson visited Mexico shortly after Donald Trump took office in 2017, this is Tillerson’s first trip to the wider region, and it comes at a time when many have criticized the White House for neglecting the hemisphere.
President Trump has yet to appoint a State Department head of Western Hemisphere affairs, and Tillerson has been a no-show at Organization of American States meetings to discuss Venezuela sanctions.
In Colombia, Tillerson will meet with President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss the resurgence of coca crops — the raw ingredient of cocaine — in Colombia and long-term security cooperation between the two allies.
In Peru, Tillerson and President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski will, among other issues, discuss the Summit of the Americas that will be held in Lima in April.
The summit, which takes place every three to four years, includes the heads of state of every country in the Americas except for Cuba. This year, there has been some debate about whether Venezuela should be invited.
The State Department official would not say whether President Trump will attend. But he added that if Maduro goes to the summit, it will allow the rest of the region to “underscore and highlight the corrupt practices that are occurring in Venezuela.”
Maduro “will have to answer to the rest of the democratic nations about why he has pursued illegitimate elections over the last year,” he said, “and we would look forward to that discussion.”
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