Caracas, January 22, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The European Union announced sanctions against Venezuela Monday, targeting seven senior Maduro administration officials with asset freezes and travel bans.
The blacklist includes Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno, Attorney General Tarek William Saab, National Bolivarian Intelligence Director Gustavo Lopez, National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena, former National Guard commander Antonio Benavides Torres, and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) Vice-President Diosdado Cabello.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council justified the measure by claiming that the government functionaries "are involved in the non-respect of democratic principles or the rule of law as well as in the violation of human rights." The Brussels-based body did not, however, provide evidence to bolster its accusations.
The move marks the first time that the European Union has imposed direct sanctions on Venezuelan officials.
While reportedly mulling sanctions for months, Brussels did not move forward until now, claiming it was waiting for the results of dialogue between the opposition and the Maduro government. While the latest round of talks was boycotted by the opposition on Thursday, both sides have hailed the internationally-mediated negotiations as “positive”, though a final agreement has yet to be reached.
The new EU pressure follow on the heels of a fresh round of sanctions imposed by the U.S. Trump administration in early January, which targeted a state governor and four Venezuelan military officials. Since last year, Washington and Ottawa have rolled out round after round of sanctions against top Venezuelan officials, including President Nicolas Maduro himself, and prohibited US banks from refinancing Venezuelan debt.
In November, the European Union approved an arms embargo against Venezuela in a controversial move that was denounced as hypocritical by EU leftist parties, who pointed to ongoing European arms sales to notorious human rights violators like Saudi Arabia.
Immediately following the announcement on Monday, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued an official statement blasting the EU sanctions as “illegal”.
“These shameful actions violate the fundamental precepts of the United Nations Charter and attempt to exercise a vulgar interference in our country’s internal affairs,” the statement reads.
The Maduro government likewise accused Brussels of imitating the policies of the Donald Trump administration.
“Today the European Union once again offers irrefutable proof of its obvious subordination to the racist and supremacist government of Donald Trump,” the Foreign Ministry continued.
The EU sanctions come as the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, has denounced plans to hold presidential elections in Venezuela this year.
Taking to Twitter Saturday, Almagro claimed that upcoming presidential elections would be fraudulent as he alleged was the case with recent mayoral and gubernatorial races.
“It’s unacceptable that elections are held by a regime in the same way that they held the regional and municipal elections. It would mean six more years of the regime of Nicolas Maduro,” he declared.
At the time, Almagro was a harsh critic of opposition parties’ decision to participate in October 15 regional elections, which they lost by a landslide and subsequently decried as fraudulent. The three largest opposition parties opted to boycott December 10 municipal elections, leading to a sweep by the ruling PSUV.
The opposition has presented no evidence to support its fraud claims and the election results have been verified by international observers as well as independent analyses by Torino Capital and Venezuelanalysis.
Despite Almagro’s warnings of fraud, Maduro has pledged guarantees for the upcoming elections in the context of ongoing negotiations between his government and the opposition.
“Our delegation [to the dialogue] has precise instructions from me… to give full guarantees for the holding of presidential elections this year in 2018, full and complete guarantees,” the head of state declared on the eve of the last round of talks on January 11.
Meanwhile, opposition parties are planning to hold primaries in order to choose a unified presidential candidate.
The finalized date for the election has yet to be announced, though government and opposition dialogue representatives are rumored to be looking at a date in the first half of 2018.