The Trump administration plans to sanction 13 Venezuelans tied to the government of President Nicolás Maduro on Wednesday, four days before the South American nation plans to hold a vote that the U.S. says will turn Maduro’s rule into a dictatorship.
The U.S. will freeze assets and ban travel visas for the 13 individuals, who are high-ranking current or former leaders of the government, military and state oil producer, in an attempt to continue punishing Maduro loyalists for undemocratic actions. The White House, which has yet to announce the sanctions, is expected to brief key members of Congress about the decision Wednesday.
Eight of the names will coincide with a list of 10 Venezuelans that U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., sent President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggesting possible sanction targets.
The five new names are: Elías Jaua, who served vice president from 2010-12 and as foreign affairs minister from 2013-14; Néstor Reverol, minister for interior relations and justice; Alejandro Fleming, who served as vice-minister for North America and Europe from 2015-16; Sergio Rivero Marcano, commander general of the Bolivarian National Guard; and Franklin García Duque, director of the Bolivarian National Police.
The other eight Venezuelans to be sanctioned are: Tibisay Lucena, president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council; Carlos Erick Malpica Flores, national treasurer; Iris Varela, minister of Venezuela’s correctional system; Tarek William Saab, ombudsman; Jesús Suárez Chourio, commander of the Bolivarian Army; Carlos Alfredo Pérez Ampueda, director of the Bolivarian National Police; Simón Zerpa, vice president of finance of state oil producer PDVSA; and Rocco Albisini, president of the national center for foreign trade, known as CENCOEX.
The two people from Menendez and Rubio’s list who won’t be included are Carlos Alberto Osorio Zambrano, head of the strategic region of integral defense, and Rodolfo Clemente Marco Torres, a brigadier general. It’s unclear why they were excluded, but Rubio and Menendez wrote Tuesday they planned to offer more names to the administration, which last week said it already had a “robust” list of potential targets.
To keep pressure on Maduro and his close supporters — and perhaps create rifts among them — more sanctions could be imposed ahead of Sunday’s vote for a national constituent assembly that would rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. That would effectively remove all power from the democratically elected National Assembly controlled by Maduro opponents.
After the Venezuelan opposition held a massive symbolic vote rejecting Maduro last week, Trump warned the White House would take “strong and swift economic actions” against “a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.”
The most drastic Trump administration move after the vote would be to escalate sanctions from individuals to Venezuela’s oil industry, by banning oil imports from the No. 3 supplier to the U.S. But some regional players, including the head of the Organization of American States, oppose an oil ban — and Rubio and others who have devoted time to persuading Latin American leaders to pressure Maduro might prefer to keep their coalition from splitting over oil sanctions.
Instead, the U.S. could opt to restrict financial transactions with Venezuela, an approach that would try to limit the ability of Maduro’s government to borrow to pay off debt interest.
The U.S. began sanctioning members of the Venezuelan government in 2015, accusing them of ties to drug trafficking. In February of this year, the Trump administration added Vice President Tareck El Aissami, calling him a drug kingpin. In May, the U.S. also penalized eight Venezuelan Supreme Court judges after the court try to overtake the National Assembly’s power.
On Tuesday, top Venezuelan diplomats accused Rubio and the CIA of secretly plotting to overthrow Maduro’s government.