HAVANA TIMES – The Trump administration imposed today sanctions on 13 senior Venezuelan officials, increasing pressure on President Nicolas Maduro within days for an election of a Constituent Assembly he seeks to draft a new Constitution, reported dpa news.
If Maduro ignores the call to suspend that process, there will also be immediate and strong economic measures, cautioned US government sources.
Of the 13 individuals sanctioned, four are directly involved in the process of the Constituent Assembly, among them Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council (CNE); And former vice president and former foreign minister Elias Jaua, who heads the presidential commission for the Constituent Assembly.
The sanctions, which have been expected for days, involve the freezing of all the assets they have in the United States and a ban on all US citizens from carrying out transactions with them. No estimated amount of the assets in the US of these public servants was released.
In its list of 13 newly sanctioned officials, the US Treasury Department also included the current Minister of the Interior, Nestor Reverol, and the former deputy Foreign Minister and former Commerce Minister Alejandro Fleming.
It is the third time that the Trump Administration takes this type of measures against Venezuelan officials. The Republican president says he will go even further if Maduro does not back down in the process of the Constituent Assembly, whose election is called for this coming Sunday, July, 30th.
The day after the popular consultation (July 16) organized by the Venezuelan opposition against the Constituent Assembly, Trump warned Maduro that he will take “strong and fast economic actions” if he continues forward with his plans. “The president will keep his word,” senior officials said on condition of anonymity today.
One of the options being considered is a suspension of oil imports from Venezuela. Refineries in the US are its leading market for its heavy crude oil. “All options remain on the table,” said the sources.
The Trump administration contemplates the election of a Constituent Assembly as a “red line” that will mark “the end of democracy” in Venezuela. “Maduro has shown that his main concern is to stay in power,” said the sources.
If a Constituent Assembly is elected on July 30, there will be “a strong response”, they insisted. They also warned, anyone who joins that body will be targeted by possible US sanctions.
Of the possible oil embargo to Venezuela, where the United States imports around 800,000 barrels a day, there has been much talk in Washington in recent days. Cutting the supply would also hurt the US because, according to experts, it would raise the price of crude and the United States would also have to use strategic reserves while the refineries look for alternative suppliers.
In addition, the fear is that such a measure could have an opposite effect to that sought, reinforcing Maduro internally by feeding the argument and justification for the country’s problems in the middle of the serious economic and humanitarian crisis if faces.
“An analysis is being done to see the impact of possible measures not only in Venezuela, but also in the United States and avoiding damage to the US economy,” the sources explained.
Since Trump arrived at the White House, the United States has sanctioned Venezuelan vice-president Tareck El Aissami, who was included in the blacklist of drug traffickers in February, and eight members of the Supreme Court in May.
Senior officials of the administration announced today that since El Aissami was included in the so-called “Kingpin list”, they have discovered that he had a lot more money than they thought.
“It is scandalous that a public servant from a country where people literally die on the streets could have hundreds of millions of dollars. This says a lot about the corruption and drug trafficking in that government,” they said.
The Treasury Department says that El Aissami has facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela to the United States and was paid for doing so by drug lords.
The other officials punished today by the United States are: Tarek William Saab Halabi (Ombudsman), Iris Varela (Minister of Penitentiary Affairs), Carlos Pérez (National Police Chief), Sergio Rivero (National Guard Chief), Jesús Suárez (Head of
Army) and Franklin García (former director of the Police).
Also included were: Rocco Albisinni Serrano, president of the Foreign Trade Center (CENCOEX), Simon Alejandro Zerpa Delgado, vice president of Finance of the state oil company PDVSA and Carlos Erik Malpica, who held that position and was also head of the Treasury.