Four days after Venezuela’s bogus presidential election, it is clear that it will take more than sanctions and repudiations by the United States and Latin America to topple Nicolás Maduro, now officially a dictator. All the fire and brimstone from abroad largely are symbolic, unfortunately, as columnist Andres Oppenheimer points out.
That’s sobering and painful news for the people suffering under Maduro’s regime, to say nothing of South Florida’s thousands of Venezuelan immigrants.
It was an easy victory for Maduro — he eliminated the opposition: Leopoldo López, under house arrest; Antonio Ledezma, in exile after being persecuted by authorities; and Henrique Capriles, who has been banned from seeking public office.
Any one of them would have presented Maduro a hard battle. The only opponent left standing was Henri Falcón, a former chavista. Falcón was considered bogus, too — just in the race to give Maduro’s elections a veneer of legitimacy. In other words, no threat at all.
President Trump, with a push from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, is imposing much tougher measures following the elections that gave Maduro another six-year term, then possibly another, ad infinitum.
Until just last month, the Castro brothers remained publicly in power in Cuba for 59 years. Unless multilateral sanctions are ramped up, it’s possible that Maduro is similarly positioned for the long-term in Venezuela.
Trump rightly signed an order on Monday prohibiting the purchase of Venezuelan debts or accepting an equity stake in Venezuelan government properties. Earlier this year, his administration slapped personal financial and visa sanctions on dozens of high-ranking Venezuelan officials.
Joining in are the European Union and the 14 Latin American countries that make up the so-called “Lima Group” — including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Peru. They also announced they were temporarily recalling their ambassadors to Venezuela and restricting travel to that country. Along with the United States, they have said they will not recognize the results of Sunday’s elections.
What can be done next?
Oil is another pressure point, but action is unlikely.
Venezuela relies on oil exports for 90 percent of its foreign income, and most of Venezuela’s oil comes to the United States, its biggest customer.
But if the Trump administration were to reduce the amount of oil imported from Venezuela, there would be huge costs to bear, both economically and morally. U.S. gas prices likely would go up, and the loss of income would further plunge Venezuela into more-crippling inflation. Plus, higher gas prices are a non-starter in an U.S. election year.
However, in the latest action following the elections, the Inter-American Development Bank announced the suspension of loans to Venezuela because of its delay in the repayment of an $88 million debt.
That will sting, leaving the country without an important source of regional financing.
Outside of economic sanctions, the Trump administration cannot do much more, unless it takes military action, which is unlikely. And even multilateral sanctions will only go so far, it seems.
Maduro wants to hold on to power, period — even if it means, sadly, suffocating his country and its people.