Rio Treaty allies will meet Monday to trigger new sanctions powers on Venezuela

The United States and more than a dozen Latin American nations will meet on Monday to discuss how to expand multilateral sanctions on Venezuela.

Colombia’s ambassador to Washington, Francisco Santos, told reporters that foreign ministers from 19 members to the Rio Treaty will convene in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, in order to initiate “the next stage” of sanctions on the embattled regime of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro.

“This is going to be a very important discussion,” Santos said Wednesday.

A source familiar with the discussions said the agenda has not been finalized. Members are discussing whether to hold a vote that could trigger new powers to impose multilateral sanctions against the Maduro regime.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement last week that the United States would join its partners in invoking the 1947 agreement, formally titled the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, citing “bellicose moves by the Venezuelan military to deploy along the border with Colombia.”

The treaty was invoked at the request of Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan National Assembly leader who is recognized as interim president by the United States and more than 50 nations.

But Santos emphasized the treaty’s ability to unleash new sanctions and downplayed its military implications. The treaty asserts that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Military action, he stated, is “not on the table whatsoever.”

“It’s sanctions, and more sanctions than we already have,” Santos added.

A U.S. official highlighted the treaty’s use as a tool to exert additional economic pressure on the Maduro government amid an unprecedented regional humanitarian crisis emanating from the political turmoil there.

“While it’s true that there’s not an intention to use the Rio Treaty for military options, it’s a really valuable tool, because a lot of the countries in the region don’t have the legal mechanisms to pursue economic sanctions in a unilateral capacity,” said Carrie Filipetti, deputy assistant secretary for Cuba and Venezuela at the State Department.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Filipetti said the Rio Treaty could provide the legal framework to enforce collective measures such as visa revocations, asset freezes and other sanctions that the U.S. has already been working on.

“This is the first time that we’re seeing the region not just issue strong statements, not just have a few countries, you know, ban Maduro officials, but really collectively come together to talk about what are the next steps for them,” Filipetti added.

In a call with reporters last week, Carlos Trujillo, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, said discussions in the first meeting would probably touch pressing issues such as the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, how to best address the refugee crisis affecting several countries in the region, and security challenges.

The Colombian and U.S. governments have confirmed the presence of members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army in Venezuela, both deemed terrorist groups.

Santos also said that Colombia wants the United Nations to enforce Resolution 1373 with respect to Venezuela, calling for Maduro to stop “harboring terrorists.”

“They’re getting stronger and stronger in Venezuela,” he said. “They have absolute protection in Venezuela.”

Related stories from Miami Herald

Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.
Nora Gámez Torres estudió periodismo y comunicación en La Habana y Londres. Tiene un doctorado en sociología y desde el 2014 cubre temas cubanos para el Nuevo Herald y el Miami Herald. También reporta sobre la política de Estados Unidos hacia América Latina. Su trabajo ha sido reconocido con premios de Florida Society of News Editors y Society for Profesional Journalists.