Trump says US could put tougher sanctions on Venezuela
The State Department has named five Venezuelans it says are responsible for detaining Juan Guaidó’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero — the latest sign that the U.S. is guiding the international community to take action toward specific individuals in Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle.
U.S. officials named a judge, two prosecutors and two intelligence officials as responsible for Marrero’s detention: Judge Carol Padilla, prosecutors Farid Mora Salcedo and Dinora Bustamante, and SEBIN officials Danny Contreras and Angel Flores.
Venezuelan security forces detained Marrero at his home Thursday morning after a predawn raid.
“It will not stand,” a State Department spokesman said. “There will be consequences for a continued crackdown.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and experts following the situation in Venezuela said Maduro is using Marrero’s detention to test the international community, particularly Latin American nations that have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader but have not imposed sanctions on the same scale as the U.S.
“I think that it’s clear that Maduro is going to do what he can and if he doesn’t get pushback he’s going to do more of it,” said Eric Farnsworth, a former State Department official who is now a vice president of the Council of the Americas in Washington, D.C. “They [Maduro’s military] don’t want to turn Guaidó into a martyr, but they’re not above harassing him either. They’ll shove him in a van and release him two hours later, to let people know they’re watching him and say, ‘By the way, the international community is not going to be your salvation.’ ”
Rubio said Maduro is “testing international response to calculate how and when to arrest Guaidó.”
And Venezuela Special Envoy Elliott Abrams said Thursday that if the international community does not act, “we will see more actions against [Guaidó’s] team and against the National Assembly.”
“The regime fears the international reaction to an arrest of Juan Guaidó and is trying to act against his team and that’s why we, meaning the Lima Group, the United States, Canada and the European Union, have to act immediately in face of these events,” Abrams said.
On Thursday afternoon, 12 of the 14 Lima Group members called for the immediate release of Marrero. The Lima Group was established in 2017 to find a peaceful transition to free and fair elections in Venezuela.
“We hold the Maduro regime responsible for the security and personal integrity of Mr. Roberto Marrero and Congressman Sergio Vergara,” the members said in a statement. Mexico and Saint Lucia did not sign on.
Farnsworth said the Lima Group, which includes Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Argentina among its members, could coordinate with each other to implement additional sanctions, which so far have been more limited than financial and oil sanctions imposed on Maduro’s regime by the U.S. and Canada. He also said the Lima Group should pressure China to recognize Guaidó and meet with Guaidó’s representative at the upcoming Inter-American Development Bank meeting in Chengdu, China. The Lima Group could also decide to revoke Venezuelan visas.
“The Lima Group has had a very important leadership role, but the sanctions have been applied in a relatively limited manner,” Farnsworth said. “Latin America itself needs to play bigger here.”
Guaidó’s team said Thursday afternoon that they still don’t know Marrero’s whereabouts. They said 40 heavily armed individuals stormed into Marrero’s home and destroyed a wall.
“Marrero was able to alert his neighbors by saying that the regime planted guns and a grenade in his home, a practice often used by the dictatorship to attack dissidents,” the Guaidó team said in a statement.
Guaidó officials said members of the Maduro regime also broke into the home of Vergara, principal assemblyman for Tachira State and head of the state’s Voluntad Popular party.
They described the action as “solid confirmation” that the Caracas leaders are seeking to attack Guaidó’s inner circle.
“Maduro has full responsibility for this kidnapping, and we demand the regime to immediately release them,” officials wrote in a statement.
Mark Feierstein, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs under President Barack Obama, said the hope is that other countries who have maintained ties with Caracas will reach out and try to reason with Maduro.
“Maduro is more likely to be receptive from entreaties from other countries than the United States,” Feierstein said. “Obviously, the United States has taken the strongest position against the government. Others have taken a strong position as well, but seem to be maintaining diplomatic channels and less seen as a threat.”
The ongoing harassment of Guaidó supporters and journalists by Maduro’s security forces also forces them to worry about their personal well-being and safety of their families instead of solely focusing on a democratic transition in Venezuela or documenting the human rights abuses of Maduro’s paramilitaries. Maduro’s police forces visited Guaidó’s home shortly after he declared himself Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Guaidó was away, but his wife and infant daughter were home, a move that reminded Guaidó supporters that Maduro continues to control the country’s police and military.
Democrats also condemned Marrero’s detention.
“We condemn the Maduro regime’s middle of the night raid and kidnapping of Roberto Marrero, the Chief of Staff to Venezuela’s interim President Juan Guaidó,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “We call on Maduro to release Marrero immediately and allow him safe return to his family.”
José Cárdenas, who served in the National Security Council under George W. Bush, said the Maduro government is testing the resolve of the Trump administration by going after someone close to Guaidó, but not Guaidó himself.
“They know that there is a red line around the personal safety of Juan Guaidó,” Cárdenas said. “So they’re going to test what they can get away with short of direct action at him. And they’re going to see if Washington’s reaction is tolerable and see if they can inch forward. “
National Security Advisor John Bolton said Thursday that the “toughest sanctions are yet to come.”
Cárdenas, who speaks regularly with Trump officials, said the administration should respond in a disproportionate fashion.
“To me, it has to be something that hurts,” Cárdenas said. “If Maduro doesn’t feel real pain as a result of this action, I think it’s going to encourage him to continue to provoke and escalate the targeting of the opposition forces.”
Farnsworth said it’s important for the U.S. not to overreact.
“The thing we need to be careful about from a U.S. perspective is that we not get into an immediate response to everything that Maduro does,” Farnsworth said. “The initiative needs to remain in the international community, otherwise he can dictate when sanctions come. My sense is the administration is going to add this to a litany of misdeeds, but move forward on sanctions on a timing they choose.”
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Antonio Maria Delgado contributed to this report.