U.S. sanctions Venezuelan Supreme Court judges over National Assembly power grab

“The United States is not going to allow those who impede democracy or violate human rights to go unpunished,” Sen. Marco Rubio

19 May U.S. sanctions Venezuelan Supreme Court judges over National Assembly power grab

May 18, 2017-

Miami Herald-

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Even if reversed, the decision was only the latest in a series of rulings that undermined the legislative branch’s authority, senior Trump administration officials told reporters Thursday. One of them referred to “the rupture of democratic norms.”

“They have made a mockery of the separation of powers, and they have denied the Venezuelan people the right to shape their future,” the official said.

Rubio’s office worked behind the scenes with the White House and National Security Council on the sanctions, which are intended to continue to punish Venezuela’s government but not its people or its economy. The U.S.’s approach has been to back civil society and call for national elections and the release of political prisoners — while pushing other countries in the region to do the same.

Targeted by the Treasury Department sanctions are Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno and the seven principal members of the court’s Constitutional Chamber: Juan José Mendoza, Arcadio de Jesús Delgado, Gladys Gutiérrez, Carmen Zuleta de Merchán, Luis Fernando Damiani Bustillos, Lourdes Benicia Suárez Anderson and Calixto Ortega.

The sanctions were authorized under a March 2015 executive order signed by then-President Barack Obama, who at the time targeted seven Venezuelan government officials, citing eroded human-rights protections, political persecutions and violence in response to opposition protests. Congress passed legislation seeking sanctions in December 2014, and extended them for another three years last July.

Thursday’s announcement was met with resounding praise from Miami Republicans in Congress, who along with Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, have prodded the Trump administration — as they did the Obama administration — to take action. On Wednesday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a Rubio friend, brought up Venezuela for the first time during a closed-door Security Council meeting.

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“It’s a step in the right direction to holding the Maduro regime accountable and sends a strong message to the people of Venezuela that we have not given up on their aspirations for a return to a true democratic order,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. (In 2015, Maduro labeled her, Rubio and other U.S. lawmakers “terrorists” and banned their entry into Venezuela.)

Miami is home to the largest Venezuelan community in the U.S., and Venezuelan government officials are known to keep properties and bank accounts in Florida, and frequently travel to Miami and Orlando on vacation. Though the U.S. won’t disclose how many assets, if any, the judges might have in the country, the sanctions affect financial transactions that pass through the U.S. even if they originate in foreign banks.

More than 40 people have died over the past six weeks as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets.

Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump hosted Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House and spoke about Venezuela, an issue the two had already previously discussed by phone.

The South American country has “been unbelievably poorly run for a long period of time, and hopefully that will change,” Trump said after the meeting, without mentioning sanctions. “Right now, what’s happening is really a disgrace to humanity.”

venezuela unstable9At Rubio’s request, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence sat down in February with Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, who has been in jail for three years. Trump has since cited that meeting when bringing up Venezuela to Western Hemisphere leaders, according to a source familiar with the conversations.

Also in February, the Treasury Department sanctioned Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who remains most senior government official targeted by the U.S. After a years-long investigation, the feds identified El Aissami as a cocaine-trafficking kingpin and froze assets belonging to his front man — including several companies registered in Miami and a private plane.

El Aissami called the drug accusations a “grotesque lie.”

El AissamiVenezuelan Vice President- Tareck El Aissami
Frank Rodriguez Junior
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