Punish Venezuela’s rulers, not its citizens
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.