U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to sanction 10 more high-ranking individuals in the Venezuelan government, ahead of a Sunday election in the South American nation that Trump warned last week would be met with “strong and swift economic actions.”
“However, even before that vote, the current situation in Venezuela justifies sanctions on numerous individuals responsible for supporting the Maduro regime,” wrote Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.
The most prominent name on the list of Venezuelans who could see their U.S. assets frozen and travel visas banned under the two Cuban-American senators’ list is Tibisay Lucena Ramírez, president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council. But the list also includes several members of the Venezuelan military, in what could be a U.S. attempt to fracture the armed forces that remain loyal to President Nicolás Maduro.
“This is only the beginning for Maduro and those empowering him to destroy democracy and abuse the Venezuelan people,” Rubio said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “More sanctions await should Maduro move forward with Sunday’s fraudulent vote.”
Maduro wants to seat a national constituent assembly to rewrite his country’s constitution and effectively usurp all power from its democratically elected National Assembly, which is controlled by Maduro opponents. Rubio has called such a vote “a complete annulment of the democratic order in Venezuela.”
Besides Lucena Ramírez, the other nine names suggested by Menendez and Rubio are: Carlos Erick Malpica Flores, national treasurer; Jesús Suárez Chourio, commander of the Bolivarian Army; Carlos Alfredo Pérez Ampueda, director of the Bolivarian National Police; Maria Iris Varela, minister of Venezuela’s correctional system; Tarek William Saab, ombudsman; Simón Alejandro Zerpa Delgado, vice president of finance of state oil company PDVSA; Carlos Alberto Osorio Zambrano, head of the strategic region of integral defense; Rodolfo Clemente Marco Torres, brigadier general; and Rocco Albisini, president of the national center for foreign trade, known as CENCOEX.
“Sadly, there is no shortage of individuals deserving of sanctions,” Rubio and Menendez wrote. “We intend to provide you with additional names in the days to come.”
Trump warned in a statement July 17, the day after Maduro opponents held a massive symbolic vote against him, that “the United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.”
Whether Trump will direct his administration to impose sanctions against the individuals on the senators’ list is unclear. A senior White House official said last week that the U.S. could act against Venezuela even before Sunday’s vote, calling its list of potentially targeted individuals “robust.” If individual sanctions are coming, they’d likely take place quickly, as early as Tuesday night or Wednesday, to avoid giving targeted individuals a chance to transfer U.S. assets outside of the country. South Florida is home to the largest Venezuelan community in the U.S.
The most serious of the potential moves against Venezuela under consideration by the Trump administration would be prohibiting oil imports. Oil is Venezuela’s only significant industry, and the country is the No. 3 supplier to the U.S. A ban, however, would be the last, most drastic possibility for the U.S., and could face resistance from other countries in the region that the U.S. would prefer to keep on its side pressuring Maduro. A range of other options is also available, including financial restrictions intended to limit the Venezuelan government’s access to credit from American lenders.
Venezuela’s foreign minister, Samuel Moncada, and the chargé d’affaires of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, Carlos Ron, accused Rubio and CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Tuesday of secretly plotting to topple Maduro’s government to install leaders friendlier to the U.S.
Rubio has repeatedly backed a Venezuelan democracy run by leaders elected by Venezuelan voters. Pompeo told the Aspen Institute security forum last week that the CIA is “hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela.”
The U.S. has already sanctioned other individuals associated with the Venezuelan government since former President Barack Obama signed an executive order in March 2015 targeting Venezuelan government officials whose actions were deemed undemocratic. Congress first passed legislation co-sponsored by Rubio and Menendez seeking sanctions in December 2014.
This past May, the Trump administration added eight Venezuelan Supreme Court judges to the list, after the court stripped the National Assembly of its power. The court later reversed itself, but the decision prompted angry street protests that have continued on a near-daily basis for months, leaving more than 100 dead.
On Tuesday, the same day Menendez and Rubio sent Trump their list, a State Department spokeswoman confirmed that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the nation’s chief diplomat who would usually be closely involved in sanctioning a foreign country, is “taking a little time off.”
McClatchy Washington Correspondent Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.