Op-Ed

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State: We’re fighting for justice for Venezuelans

Assistant Secretary of State Kimberly Breier

National security advisor discusses Venezuela, Russia and Cuba relations, and the alleged attacks on U.S. personnel in Cuba

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton talks to el Nuevo Herald's Nora Gámez Torres on Latin American policy at the National Historic Landmark Miami Freedom Tower on Nov. 1, 2018.
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White House National Security Advisor John Bolton talks to el Nuevo Herald's Nora Gámez Torres on Latin American policy at the National Historic Landmark Miami Freedom Tower on Nov. 1, 2018.

On Oct. 8, Fernando Alban fell 10 stories to his death, another victim of SEBIN, Venezuela’s brutal intelligence service. The respected opposition council member’s sin: criticizing the Maduro regime’s corrupt politics and crimes against the Venezuelan people.

The United States and the international community demand an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Alban’s death. To date, the Maduro regime has ignored these calls. Apparently, they see nothing unusual about the death of another regime critic in SEBIN’s maximum-security headquarters.

Alban’s death is just one more link in the chain of political oppression forged by the Maduro regime. The regime first detained Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in 2014; it has kept him under house arrest since Aug. 4, 2017, for 490 days and counting.

The regime imprisoned Lorent Saleh for more than four years without trial, releasing him only after Alban’s death and banishing him into exile in Spain. His harrowing story reveals the sophisticated methods of cruelty and abuse by which the Maduro regime tortures political prisoners. Saleh has described the brutality of SEBIN’s underground torture center known as La Tumba (the tomb), and how guards tried to annihilate his senses and wreak psychological terror. He thought of suicide “as the only means of defense” in the face of years of torture, but he survived. “Now my cell holds another innocent person,” he said shortly after his release.

The regime has arbitrarily detained almost 500 Venezuelans this year, including Fernando Alban, and almost 13,000 since 2014, according to the human rights organization Foro Penal. More than 288 of these political prisoners remained in detention as of December 3, perhaps more by the time this comes to print, and other regime opponents endure house arrest or the short leash of parole by an arbitrary dictatorship.

The regime has also turned on itself, arbitrarily jailing more than 75 members of the Venezuelan armed forces suspected of disloyalty to Maduro. These cruelties tell the story of life under Maduro: Politically motivated imprisonment; torture in government custody; repression of free expression and assembly; and a total lack of due process. “We are not prisoners,” Saleh has said, “We are hostages of the regime.”

The United States will not stand idly by as this despotic regime takes everything from the Venezuelan people, attempting to solve its problems by creating a mass exodus that strains the patience and resources of other countries in the region.

We will work together with our partners across the Western Hemisphere and in Europe, to isolate the Maduro regime, and we will increase pressure on Maduro and those around him so that the Venezuelan people have the opportunities they deserve to restore democracy in their country.

The United States government has sanctioned President Maduro, his wife Cilia Flores, and more than 60 current and former Venezuelan officials. Our sanctions bar these individuals from access to our banking system and keep them from traveling to our country. They prohibit United States persons from dealing with them and freeze any of their assets under United States jurisdiction. We will keep up this pressure.

Last month, National Security Adviser John Bolton announced a new sanction authority that expands our ability to target individuals and entities involved in an array of corrupt and deceptive activities involving Venezuela, including the Venezuelan gold sector.

This new sanctions authority will build on the strength of the targeted sanctions that have been in place since March 2015, as well as the financial sanctions involving Venezuela in August 2017, which are designed to prevent Maduro’s illegitimate regime from using the United States financial system to obtain resources. Venezuela diverts its resources for corrupt ends that do not benefit the Venezuelan people. We cannot allow the Maduro regime to further saddle a future, legitimate government with an even larger cost for recovering from many years of atrocious economic policies that have destroyed Venezuela’s economic and human capital.

We will continue to use sanctions to pressure the Maduro regime.

Each sanctioned individual will lose access to the U.S. banking system, and by extension to the world’s financial markets. Each person on our sanctions list will lose the ability to travel to the United States, because, frankly, we don’t want them to find shelter here. Some governments standing on the right side of history, in countries such as Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and in Europe, have taken similar measures; we hope they will work with us to do even more to stop these criminals from using their ill-gotten gains throughout the world.

Human rights are as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Governments throughout the Americas have pledged to protect their citizens’ freedom of speech, assembly, and basic human dignity. The United States will continue to support the Venezuelan people as they strive to restore their democracy and regain their human rights.

As the Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State, my team and I will continue to work tirelessly with our friends, using all tools available to us, to hold the Maduro regime accountable for its abuses.

While we are applying stringent sanctions against the regime today, stronger options are available. The Venezuelan people deserve to live in a democratic, prosperous, and stable country and we will do whatever is appropriate to help them attain that.

Kimberly Breier is U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

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