On Monday, the Trump administration announced that it would impose new sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and prevent any dealings with U.S. companies unless under special conditions.
In response, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from Minnesota, tweeted:
“Trump’s new sanctions on Venezuela are nothing more than economic sabotage designed to force regime change by starving the very people we claim to be helping. We must lift these, & other sanctions impacting Venezuela’s poor, & support dialogue between the opposition & government.”
Rep. Omar, we are on the same team.
First, a warm salutation from the Venezuelan immigrant community in Minnesota. We acknowledge and thank you for the efforts your office pursues regarding immigrant rights, integration and social justice in Minnesota.
We are concerned by the rhetoric surrounding the humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela. On one hand, we see a conservative narrative seeking an intervention that Venezuelans see as detrimental to our well-being. We also note certain misconceptions regarding the interpretation of facts within the liberal narrative. We fear that these misconceptions will steer the debate away from human-rights violations and good governance.
These misconceptions include the nature of U.S.-imposed sanctions and the current transition and its constitutional foundation. We take the liberty, as Venezuelans who have suffered these violations to our human rights, to shed some light onto the social reality of Venezuela:
1) U.S. sanctions on Venezuela
Sanctions were a bipartisan effort to address corruption and human-rights violations in Venezuela, affecting only public and security officials involved in them. Given the track record of U.S. foreign policy, we understand that any sanctions can be interpreted as a mirror to the Cuban embargo. These sanctions do not resemble that destructive embargo.
Executive Order 13692, signed into law by the Obama administration on March 8, 2015, prevents Venezuelan government officials who engaged in human-rights violations during the 2014 anti-government protests from entering the U.S. The order includes freezing assets under U.S. jurisdiction deemed to originate from government corruption. It does not affect anyone aside from members of the military and the administration of President Nicolás Maduro who participated in the killing, torture and arbitrary arrest of government dissenters.
After numerous dialogue attempts between the opposition and Maduro’s government, in response to the ransacking of the Venezuelan treasury by corrupt officials using Venezuela’s public oil company, PDVSA, the U.S. implemented Executive Order 13808 on Aug. 24, 2017, to stop capital flight from public funds into private individual accounts and ghost companies. On March 19, 2018, the current administration introduced Executive Order 13827, forbidding U.S. nationals and corporate entities from funding or implementing the Petro Cryptocurrency, which is used by foreign governments like Iran and Russia to bypass U.S. sanctions. Subsequently, Executive Orders 13835 and 13850 expand on restrictions against government officials and capital flight, including gold transactions, which the Maduro government uses to acquire military and anti-riot gear.
These sanctions do not include any embargo, fines or trade restrictions beyond military equipment. Maduro publicly stated that no humanitarian aid channels will be opened to address the crisis. The U.S. and other countries have expressed their willingness to send humanitarian aid. Maduro’s government has refused this relief as a means to punish Venezuelans.
2) The current transition and its constitutional basis:
The Chavez/Maduro regimes usurped democratically elected institutions whenever the opposition was elected. Pertinent precedents date back to Dec. 6, 2015. On that date, a parliamentary election took place in which the opposition obtained a three-fifths qualified majority. The previous parliament controlled by Maduro had designated electoral commission officers, of whom all but one were members of his party. These officials were not voted in, but appointed by parliament, where Maduro benefited from powers of decree pre-2015. Maduro’s parliament met overnight to designate a new Supreme Court, forcing resignations to elect a Supreme Court loyal to him. When the opposition parliament was sworn in, he called for a constitutional conference to create a parallel parliament loyal to him. In accordance with the constitution, the opposition parliament designated new Supreme Court officials. The government’s response was to issue arrest warrants for these duly elected justices, forcing them into exile.
Maduro manipulated these elections, creating a parallel parliament under a constitutional conference. He altered the constitution arbitrarily to his benefit and used parallel institutions to persecute the opposition. Civil society organized a plebiscite in which millions of Venezuelans protested his actions. Maduro responded with repression and censorship.
On Oct. 15, 2017, regional elections were held. Maduro’s government used tactics like gerrymandering, intimidation and parallel governments to undermine the opposition and prevent participation. He seized many governorships and municipalities. Those he did not control he reorganized by setting up parallel governorships named “protectorships.”
In 2018, an election was due. He arbitrarily moved up the date from December to April 22, then to May 20. There was harassment against opposition candidates. Maduro banned opposition candidates who challenged him. He elected his contender by coercing others to not participate. Arrest warrants were issued by his Supreme Court. Many international independent observers defined this election as a “snap election.” It had the lowest turnout in the country’s democratic history, yet he claimed to control a majority.
In January 2019, the parallel parliament and the parallel Supreme Court dissolved the democratically elected parliament. The parliament declared Maduro illegitimate. He tried to dissolve parliament, so they called for a power vacuum as defined in the Constitution and designated Juan Guaido, the president of parliament, as interim president of Venezuela. The government’s response was to issue arrest warrants against him, but protests were ignited. Parliament asked the international community to recognize Guaido as interim president until elections could be held. Maduro responded by cracking down on dissent using his intelligence service police.
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Venezuelans in Minnesota do not ask for intervention in Venezuela. We want to transition peacefully and democratically. War has no winners, only casualties. Rep. Omar, we ask that you denounce Maduro for the lives that he has taken. We ask that you acknowledge his abuses against the people. We ask that you help us repatriate the public funds that have been misallocated into U.S. personal accounts by government officials, and, last, we kindly ask for help regarding temporary protections for Venezuelans within the U.S. and open humanitarian aid channels to help the people he holds hostage.
We are on the same team, and we want to work with you to achieve social justice for our people.
Guillermo Gorrin, of Minneapolis, is a political scientist and researcher. The views in this article reflect his interactions with approximately 1,500 Venezuelans in Minnesota, including victims of torture, and his experience as a political asylum-seeker and refugee.