Trump administration is right to sanction Maduro’s henchmen in Venezuela

Miami Herald Editorial Board

A demonstrator waves a flag in Caracas with the the crossed-out image of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
A demonstrator waves a flag in Caracas with the the crossed-out image of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. AP

Days before a critical vote engineered by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — one that would all but turn him into an unmovable dictator — the Trump administration fired a warning shot across his bow, with a solid assist from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. It’s not too late for Maduro to get the message.

The Treasury Department on Wednesday levied onerous financial sanctions on several current and former officials in Venezuela on the eve of Sunday’s National Constituent Assembly. The assembly is a sham body with one goal: changing Venezuela’s constitution to let megalomaniacal Maduro remain president for an unbearably long time.

It would be a significant blow to the National Assembly, the only body that represents the people trapped in Maduro’s nightmare of a government. Trump and Rubio are right.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ordered that the assets of 13 powerful Venezuelans be frozen. They all are Maduro’s enablers, helping him do his dirty work. Rubio provided the names, which include the chiefs of police, national guard and army, the interior secretary, and government officials set to do Maduro’s bidding on the National Constituent Assembly.

The National Assembly parliament has been in the hands of the opposition since December 2015, when voters democratically elected a majority of the candidates. Since then, confrontations between the Assembly and Maduro’s government, controlled by loyalists of late President Hugo Chávez, have been incessant.

Maduro is looking for a way to dissolve the parliament, the only entity he can’t control; and in his drive to remain in power, the current president shows that he is capable of just about any undemocratic excess.

Already, his government walks like a dictatorship and talks like a dictatorship. The National Constituent Assembly would merely make it official.

Many citizens for months have taken to the streets in protest. The death count stood Wednesday at 104, the result of demonstrators’ clashes with government forces. That day, a woman was killed during the latest act of civil disobedience — a 48-hour general strike to cripple the capital of Caracas, which continues on Thursday.

Popular pressure is heating up so much that Maduro proposed on Tuesday postponing the constitutional vote for 45 days, until the opposition can “cool down.” It’s a trick to gain time. But if demonstrations didn’t end when he released opposition leader Leopoldo López from prison this month — to house arrest — then they won’t stop in another 45 days. This “offer” reveals a crack in his armor.

This regime continues to censure freedoms and has thrown the country into an unprecedented economic crisis. The international community should not sit by, idly.

Rather, it should follow the Trump administration’s lead and that of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and Chile, which have urged Maduro to suspend Sunday’s vote. The U.S. government also threatens additional economic sanctions if the National Constituent Assembly takes place.

The regime is showing signs of vulnerability in the face of opponents who show no signs of relenting. This is the moment when the Venezuelan people need the strong support of the international community to save their country from the mess into which their incompetent government dragged them kicking and screaming.