US imposes sanctions on Maduro
‘Imperialist attack’ on Venezuela
VENEZUELAN President Nicolas Maduro has defended himself against sanctions imposed by the US on Monday.
In a public address, Maduro declared: “Impose whatever sanctions you like, but I am the leader of the free people.”
Earlier in the day, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “All assets of Nicolas Maduro subject to US jurisdiction are frozen, and US persons are prohibited from dealing with him.”
Maduro lambasted the sanctions as an “imperialist attack” against Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly.
“Why are they sanctioning me? Because I called democratic elections so that people can freely vote for the National Constituent Assembly,” he said. “I feel proud to be sanctioned by Mr Imperialist Donald Trump.”
Maduro said that pressure from the US would not derail the new assembly. “Venezuela will not be silenced,” he said.
According to electoral authorities, over 8 million people voted in the election for the assembly on Sunday – a turnout of over 41%.
Cuba praised the election and denounced what it called an international plot to suppress the will of the Venezuelan people in the wake of the US sanctions on its key ally.
Governments from Spain, Canada, Argentina and Peru joined Washington in denouncing the vote, which was boycotted by the opposition.
“We know well these interventionist practices,” Havana said. The US imposed a devastating economic embargo on the Caribbean island after its 1959 revolution that Cuba says has cost it more than $100 billion (R13.2 trillion).
Venezuela and Cuba became close allies in the late 1990s under the respective leaderships of Fidel Castro and his disciple Hugo Chavez, both now deceased.
Their close personal and political relationship resulted in extensive Venezuelan aid to the Caribbean island and a shared strategy for promoting Latin American unity against US influence in the region.
Elections were conducted on Sunday in Venezuela to elect 537 of the total 545 members of the National Constituent Assembly. The remaining eight seats belong to indigenous people.
The assembly was proposed by Maduro in May, to rewrite the 1999 constitution and break a political deadlock that has paralysed the South American country.
The right-wing opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable claims the assembly is an attempt by Maduro to consolidate power, and boycotted Sunday’s vote.
Political observer Sergio Rodriguez Gelfenstein said the US sanctions against Maduro were a symbolic measure designed to show Washington’s disapproval of the renegade leader who defied a White House order to scrap Sunday’s poll.
Personal sanctions against Maduro are unlikely to harm US interests, whereas economic sanctions against the South American country could affect US businesses, Rodriguez said.
Trump initially said he was going to take economic measures against Caracas over the assembly. However, “he began to realise the implications that would have for the United States and changed his mind”, Rodriguez explained.
“Now he takes this measure, which has more of a symbolic value. I don’t know whether President Maduro has (bank) accounts in the United States. I doubt it,” said Rodriguez.
Sociologist Jose Antonio Egido dismissed allegations by Venezuela’s conservative opposition and its international allies that the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela would simply use the 545-member assembly to consolidate its power.
The assembly must reflect a cross section of society, said Egido.
“The constituent assembly has to express the will of the majority, not just of the chavistas (government supporters).”
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro shows his ballot after casting his vote for a constitutional assembly in Caracas on Sunday.