Following Canada and EU lead, Washington hits five more Venezuelans with sanctions

Washington on Tuesday hit four Venezuelan military officials and one lawmaker with sanctions, as the U.S. Treasury Department signaled that it would work in collaboration with international allies to close the doors on the South American nation.

The five people named by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control had previously been sanctioned by Canada or the European Union but were not on Washington’s list of targeted individuals.

“Treasury is identifying high-level officials acting on behalf of the oppressive regime of former Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, which continues to engage in egregious levels of corruption and human rights abuses,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “This action harmonizes our efforts with those of international partners like Canada and the European Union that have imposed sanctions against former Maduro regime officials.”

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Washington has hit Venezuela with a barrage of economic and targeted sanctions in its campaign to force Maduro out of office. Along with 50 other nations, Washington has accused Maduro of clinging to power through fraudulent elections in 2018, and argues that the head of the country’s opposition-controlled congress, Juan Guaidó, is the country’s legitimate president.

Since Donald Trump took office in 2016, the U.S. Treasury has sanctioned more than 100 Venezuelans, freezing their assets and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them, according to the Targeted Sanctions Database run by the Washington Office on Latin America. In addition, Canada has sanctioned 40 individuals and the European Union has hit 25 Venezuelans with asset freezes and barred others from entering their bloc.

Those sanctioned Tuesday were: Nestor Neptali Blanco Hurtado, a major in the Bolivarian National Guard, who is reportedly responsible for using excessive force and mistreating detainees; Jose Adelino Ornelas Ferreira, the secretary general of the National Defense Council, who allegedly allowed security forces to use excessive force against peaceful protesters and journalists; Pedro Miguel Carreño Escobar, a representative of the Venezuelan National Constituent Assembly; Carlos Alberto Calderon Chirinos, a senior official in Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, who is accused of torturing a peaceful protester; and Remigio Ceballos Ichaso, an admiral in the Venezuelan Navy.

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The European Union and the United Nations held a meeting to discuss Venezuela’s refugee crisis last month, but the U.S. government has expressed frustration in the past that the EU hasn’t applied broad sanctions against Venezuela.

In addition, Bloomberg reported last week that the Trump administration was considering taking punitive steps against Spain for not freezing assets held by Maduro’s allies.

Tuesday’s sanctions come as Guaidó has been trying to ratchet up international and domestic pressure on Maduro at a time when the opposition coalition is looking weak. He’s called for a national march on Nov. 16.

Also this week, El Salvador’s new president, Nayib Bukele, gave Maduro’s diplomatic representatives 48 hours to leave the country, saying that his Central American nation no longer recognizes Maduro’s legitimacy. Venezuela has responded by ejecting Salvadoran diplomats.

Despite Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign, Maduro has clung to power. Attempts at finding a negotiated solution have broken down, but the U.S. State Department has said that it believes the painful economic sanctions will eventually force Maduro to find a negotiated solution to the crisis.

“When we talk about sanctions, we’re not talking about pressure for pressure’s sake,” said Carrie Filipetti, the deputy assistant secretary for Cuba and Venezuela in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. “The sanctions are the only reason — and this is from the mouth of Maduro himself — the only reason that he came to the table to negotiate at Oslo. We believe that with additional pressure, he will actually engage in good faith, which is what is desperately needed and what has been missing from the previous negotiations in 2016, 2017, and then, of course, also this year in 2019.“

In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday’s actions demonstrate “the United States’ continuing commitment to maintain maximum pressure on the former Maduro regime to help ensure a democratic transition in Venezuela.”

Jim Wyss covers Latin America for the Miami Herald and was part of the team that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for its work on the “Panama Papers.” He and his Herald colleagues were also named Pulitzer finalists in 2019 for the series “Dirty Gold, Clean Cash.” He joined the Herald in 2005.