Should the U.S. Impose Sanctions on Venezuelan Officials?

“Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken’s statement in his confirmation hearings to become deputy secretary of state that the Obama administration would not oppose sanctions against Venezuela, prompted by the Maduro regime’s repression of democratic protests earlier this year, makes it a virtual certainty that the new Republican Congress will move to impose sanctions next year. This would, I think, have happened in any case. The issue is an irresistible opportunity to show up the Obama administration’s laconic and feeble approach to dealing with Latin America’s miscreants—exemplified by its feckless failure to prevent Venezuela from securing a seat on the U.N. Security Council earlier this year. An oppositionCongress inevitably tries to contrast its approach with that of the administration.

This can serve to pressure the administration to change course—in this case, to stiffen its spine. Blinken’s signal strikes me as wise, turning an inevitability that could have become a stratagem to embarrass the Obama administration into an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation. How promptly the cognizant House and Senate subcommittees turn to this is anyone’s guess. The 114th Congress will surely face more urgent priorities, and some subcommittee chairmanships aren’t yet announced. But if Rep. Matt Salmon retains the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee chairmanship and if Sen. Marco Rubio—a sanctions advocate—becomes chairman of the counterpart Senate subcommittee, sanctions legislation seems only a matter of time. And, coming against the background of Maduro’s mounting economic problems exacerbated by falling world oil prices, the timing could prove ideal. With luck, sanctions will make the situation much worse—for Maduro’s regime.

 

Philip Hughes G. Philip Hughes draws on a wealth of high-level foreign policy experience in developing and managing message campaigns for international companies.

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