Caracas, November 2, 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) – US State Department official Thomas Shannon announced Thursday that he would seek new sanctions against Venezuela if confirmed in his post as undersecretary of state for political affairs.
Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Shannon indicated that US sanctions against Venezuelan officials “will be an important tool for us and we will use it if necessary”.
The comments mark a sharp change in tone on the part of the State Department official, who in his current post as senior counselor to US Secretary of State Kerry has led efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Caracas in recent months.
Relations between both countries further deteriorated earlier this year after the Obama administration imposed several rounds of sanctions against Bolivarian officials and then in March issued an executive order branding Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat”.
The move triggered a worldwide outcry, with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro leading a global campaign that saw 13 million people sign a petition demanding the repeal of the US decree. Maduro’s efforts succeeded in forcing the US to backtrack in its hardline stance and resume diplomatic talks.
During the Senate hearing, Shannon announced that US-Venezuela relations and the possibility of new sanctions will now depend on the impartiality of Venezuela’s December 6 parliamentary elections as well as the status of what he termed “political prisoners”.
In mentioning “political prisoners”, Shannon echoed comments made by John Kerry in September expressing “great concern” for rightwing politician Leopoldo Lopez, who was convicted of leading last year’s violent anti-government protests that resulted in the deaths of 43 people, the majority passerby and security personnel.
Washington has long questioned the fairness of Venezuela’s electoral system, disregarding the consistent findings of international observer missions, including those of the Carter Center, which declared it the “best in the world”.
Shannon’s remarks come on the heels of recent statements by US Southern Command chief John Kelly last week, who warned that Venezuela lies on the brink of a social “implosion”.
Rejecting US intervention in Venezuela’s internal affairs, Maduro has announced that he is prepared to file a lawsuit in US courts in order to pressure the Obama administration to repeal its March executive order, which opens the door to new US sanctions so long as it remains in force.
Renegade Prosecutor Urges Sanctions
Speaking in recent interviews from Miami, rogue Venezuelan prosecutor Franklin Nieves also voiced calls for US sanctions against the Bolivarian government.
Nieves, who served as one of the chief prosecutors in the high profile Lopez case, fled with his family to the United States, alleging that the trial against the Harvard-educated lawyer had been rigged.
The ex-prosecutor has yet, however, to present evidence to back his claims, and Venezuela’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega Diaz, has reported that Nieves “never denounced any irregularity throughout the investigation”.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello has alleged that Nieves received $850,000 in exchange for defecting to the US.
Nieves follows in a line of Venezuelan officials who have fled to the US, the most recent of whom, Cabello’s ex-bodyguard Leamsy Salazar, accused the country’s top legislator of heading a drug trafficking ring, though failed to present evidence.