Venezuela Rejects New U.S. Sanctions against High-Ranking Officials

On Thursday the Venezuelan government “strongly rejected” a U.S. Treasury Department decision to sanction four members of the country’s political and military establishment, calling the move “another expression of the imperial and arrogant character by which these institutions act against our countries.”

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Venezuelan lawmaker and ex Caracas mayor Freddy Bernal during a voter registration drive for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Agencies).
Venezuelan lawmaker and ex Caracas mayor Freddy Bernal during a voter registration drive for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Agencies).
By Venezuelanalysis.com
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Merida, September 9th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Thursday the Venezuelan government “strongly rejected” a U.S. Treasury Department decision to sanction four members of the country’s political and military establishment, calling the move “another expression of the imperial and arrogant character by which these institutions act against our countries.” The declaration came in response to the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) that placed four Venezuelan nationals on an updated list of “Specially Designated Nationals” accused of arming leftist guerrillas in neighboring Colombia.

The four men “sanctioned” by the U.S. Treasury Department are socialist lawmaker and former Caracas mayor Freddy Bernal, Latin American assemblyman Amilcar Figueroa, Army General Cliver Alcala, and intelligence office Ramon Isidro Madriz Moreno.

According to a U.S. Treasury press release, the four have acted “for or on behalf of the narco-terrorist organization the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), often in direct support of its narcotics and arms trafficking activities.”

The men join three other high-ranking Venezuelan officials already on the U.S. list: General Henry Rangel Silva, General Hugo Carvajal, and former interior minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin.

While no concrete evidence was provided to demonstrate the men’s “support” for the Colombian guerrillas, the U.S. decision prohibits U.S. citizens from “engaging in transactions” with the men and places a freeze on “any assets that they may have under U.S. jurisdiction.”

In response to the OFAC decision, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro called the United States a "sick society" that is responsible for "this sickness of narco-trafficking." He accused the U.S. of attempting to serve as "a kind of global police to judge decent citizens of our country" and called the move “abusive.”

Venezuela’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs later issued a public statement in which it affirmed the “sanctions” are “part of the permanent defamatory campaigns orchestrated in the imperial power centers of the United States, precisely aimed at nourishing hostile policies against our homeland.”

Responding to the U.S. decision, sanctioned PSUV lawmaker Freddy Bernal called the move an “attack on the homeland” that was aimed at harming the “process underway” in Venezuela that seeks “liberation through socialism.”

Bernal said he was “proud” of the U.S. classification, since Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa had received similar accusations, and told reporters he “could care less about the U.S. government” since he had no foreign bank accounts, properties abroad, and had no interest in visiting the United States in the near future.

With respect to all four men sanctioned, Bernal said the U.S. was looking to “disqualify those of us who have been the most loyal soldiers (to Chavez) and who have taken on the consequences associated to a Bolivarian loyalty and dignity.”

“The objective of the U.S. Empire,” said Bernal, “is to create the conditions to attack Venezuela and justify doing so with these lies.”

In recent years, the U.S. and Colombian governments have repeatedly accused the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of supporting the FARC insurgency in its decades-long war against the Colombian government. During the presidency of Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe (2002 - 2010), accusations by Uribe led Venezuela’s Chavez to increase his country’s military presence along the border with Colombia in “defensive preparation” for war with Colombia.

In 2008, after the Colombian military carried out an armed raid against FARC rebels hidden in Ecuadorian territory, relations worsened.

After the raid, the Colombian government said it had “uncovered” numerous documents on the laptop computer of assassinated FARC Commander Raul Reyes, document they said proved Venezuela’s support for the armed insurgency.

More commonly referred to as the “FARC Files,” these documents were later found “inadmissible” by the Colombian Supreme Court which said it could not be certain the files were not tampered with by members of the Colombian security forces.

While the U.S. Treasury Department did not provide any concrete evidence linking the four Venezuelan nations to the FARC insurgency, an article in the Washington Post suggests the accusations are based on the same “FARC Files.”

The “Specially Designated” Four

Freddy Bernal, considered a “leader” of the ruling the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), served as mayor of Caracas from 2000 to 2008. He began his political career as a member of Chavez’s Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) and was first elected to the country’s National Assembly in 1998. A year later, he was elected to the Venezuelan Constitutional Assembly, which drafted the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (1999). In April 2002, during the failed military coup against democratically-elected president Hugo Chavez, Bernal played a key role in mobilizing pro-Chavez forces against the military government installed in the Miraflores Presidential Palace.  

Bernal was an outspoken supporter of the formation of the PSUV (2007) and was elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly in last year’s parliamentary elections. He currently leads government efforts to reduce gun violence in the country, including draft legislation against easy access to guns and ammunition.

Amilcar Figueroa is a Venezuelan historian, former guerrilla fighter, and active member of the PSUV’s leadership in Caracas. He was elected to represent Venezuela at the Latin American Parliament for the 2006 – 2011 period and served as the organizations Alternate President from 2006 to 2008. In 2009, a Colombian court accused Figueroa of providing support to the FARC, based on information said to have been found in the “FARC Files.”

Cliver Alcala is Major General of the Fourth Armored Division of the Venezuelan Army, one of the country’s most important army units, and Ramon Isidro Madriz Moreno is an officer of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN), Venezuela’s national intelligence agency.