Pun­ish Venezuela’s rulers, not its cit­i­zens

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ap­peared in Fri­day’s Wash­ing­ton Post:

Over the week­end the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment staged a rigged vote to cre­ate a con­stituent assem­bly that would have the power to over­rule all other bod­ies, in­clud­ing the elected Na­tional Assem­bly, state gover­nors and courts.

Months of daily street demon­stra­tions by hun­dreds of thou­sands of Venezue­lans, in which more than 100 peo­ple have died and more than 1,000 have been in­jured, have done noth­ing to stop the regime’s drive to­ward dic­ta­tor­ship. Re­cently more than seven mil­lion peo­ple op­posed the con­stituent assem­bly in an op­po­si­tion-or­ga­nized ref­er­en­dum. The regime shrugged. Nor has it heeded ap­peals from its Latin Amer­i­can neigh­bours and other West­ern democ­ra­cies.

To its credit, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has tough­ened U.S. pol­icy, de­cree­ing three rounds of sanc­tions on se­nior Venezue­lan of­fi­cials sus­pected of be­ing in­volved in drug traf­fick­ing and the sup­pres­sion of democ­racy; 13 more peo­ple were named on Wed­nes­day. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump also promised “strong and swift eco­nomic ac­tions” if the con­stituent assem­bly elec­tion goes for­ward.

The risk now is that U.S. pol­icy will go too far. The White House is re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing sanc­tions on Venezue­lan oil ex­ports, which pro­vide 95 per cent of the coun­try’s ex­port rev­enues, in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble ban on the 700,000 bar­rels a day that go to the United States. That ac­tion would be dev­as­tat­ing to Venezuela’s 30 mil­lion peo­ple, who al­ready face dire short­ages of food and medicine. It will also give the Maduro regime an ex­cuse for the cat­a­strophic eco­nomic con­di­tions it has cre­ated. If the con­stituent assem­bly is called, the United States should re­act de­ci­sively — but it should do so in ways that pun­ish Venezuela’s cor­rupt rulers, not its long-suf­fer­ing pop­u­la­tion.

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