Turning up the heat

OFAC takes aim at Venezuelan President Maduro and his political cohorts, but oil imports untouched

By: Chris Gillis
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Photo: Marcos Salgado / Shutterstock.com
   The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has imposed sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Moros, which freeze all his assets under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit U.S. persons from having any business dealings with him.
   The Trump administration said it took this action in response to the South American country’s July 30 election for a National Constituent Assembly (ANC) that “aspires illegitimately to usurp the constitutional role of the democratically elected National Assembly, rewrite the constitution, and impose an authoritarian regime on the people of Venezuela.”
   Maduro was elected president of Venezuela April 14, 2013, following the death of former President Hugo Chavez. Maduro held previous roles in the Venezuelan government, including as executive vice president and minister of foreign affairs.
   Since Chavez’s death, the country’s economy has spiraled downward and there have been numerous reports of starvation among the population due to insufficient national food stocks and the Maduro government’s refusal to import food from other countries. This has occurred despite the country sitting on top of one of the world’s largest oil reserves.
   The Maduro regime has also been accused of widespread oppression and human rights abuses against opposition political parties and their members.
   The OFAC sanctions against Maduro follow similar action taken by the agency five days earlier when it sanctioned 13 current and former senior Venezuelan government officials. Among the more senior officials on the U.S. sanctions list include Tibisay Lucena Ramirez, president of the Maduro-controlled National Electoral Council; Elias Jose Jaua Milano, head of the presidential commission for the National Constituent Assembly; Tarek William Saab Halabi, the country’s ombudsman and president of Venezuela’s Republican Moral Council; and Maria Iris Varela Rangel, member of Venezuela’s presidential commission for the National Constituent Assembly and the former minister of the penitentiary service.
   “Anyone who participates in this illegitimate ANC could be exposed to future U.S. sanctions for their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement.
   Despite the newly imposed U.S. sanctions and rhetoric against his election coming from the White House, Maduro remains defiant. He reportedly dared the United States in a televised statement on Monday: “Impose all the sanctions that you want, but I’m a free president.”
   The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration was careful not to impose a ban on Venezuelan oil imports entering the United States.
   “The president understands that it’s bad politics at home to raise gas prices,” the newspaper said, further citing Energy Information Administration figures that show the United States currently takes in about 10 percent of its oil imports from this South American country.
   If an outright U.S. ban had been imposed on Venezuelan oil imports, energy consultant Philip Verleger told the Post that the cost of oil in the United States could easily increase by $10 a barrel, and “gas prices in the U.S. would go up 25 or 30 cents a gallon within a couple of weeks.”