U.S. Issues New Penalties Against Venezuelan Officials, Vowing ‘Maduro Must Go’
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration issued a new round of visa restrictions and economic sanctions on Friday against the government of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, who has given little indication that he will cede control despite a prediction by a top American envoy that his “dictatorship” would come to an end, “quickly and peacefully.”
The envoy, Elliott Abrams, also noted the possibility of American military intervention, as requested by Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader. But he described it as a distant line of action behind other moves meant to ratchet up diplomatic and economic pressure against Mr. Maduro.
“We continue to say, and we always will, that all options are on the table,” Mr. Abrams told reporters at the State Department. “But I think that anyone who actually looks at American policy in Venezuela could not reach that conclusion.”
Vice President Mike Pence, who has visited the region five times, largely to put pressure on Mr. Maduro, said this week that he personally reassured Mr. Guaidó that military intervention was on the table. But, he said, that decision was ultimately up to President Trump.
The Trump administration this week escalated its campaign to pressure Mr. Maduro to step down, even as adversarial governments, including Russia, have become involved in the conflict.
In January, with White House support, Mr. Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s interim president after accusations of electoral fraud and corruption by the Maduro government that have sent the country’s economy into hyperinflation and poverty.
Mr. Abrams swatted away a suggestion made by Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, that the United States was pondering immediate military intervention.
Instead, Mr. Abrams said, the Trump administration is focused on relatively modest sanctions that were announced on Friday and earlier this week, including those against at least 10 Venezuelan government officials and members of Mr. Maduro’s inner circle, accusing them of abuse of power and of blocking aid to the country.
Mr. Abrams also announced visa restrictions for “dozens” of Mr. Maduro’s associates, some of whom he said may be in the United States. He said he was prohibited from naming the Venezuelan officials and their family members whose visas were revoked but cited a “mix” of people both inside and outside the United States.
In recent days, White House officials have tried to maintain pressure on Mr. Maduro, who emerged relatively unfazed after a largely failed American-backed effort to send convoys of humanitarian aid into Venezuela last weekend. Efforts to persuade its soldiers to defect degenerated into clashes and mayhem between anti-Maduro protesters and Venezuelan security forces along the borders with Colombia and Brazil.
Only a smattering of aid got through, and it did little if anything to loosen Mr. Maduro’s control.
Mr. Pence met on Monday with Mr. Guaidó in Colombia. On Friday, he declared that “Nicolás Maduro must go” in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
“Nicolás Maduro is a dictator with no claim to power,” Mr. Pence said.
Since violating a travel ban and slipping across the Venezuelan border into Colombia last week, Mr. Guaidó has traveled through Latin America in an effort to build an international coalition against Mr. Maduro. He has vowed to return to Venezuela in the coming days, though he has said he cannot be sure of what will happen once he arrives.
“Of course, it is a risk,” Mr. Guaidó said in a news conference in Brazil on Thursday, “even life threatening.”
For his part, Mr. Maduro has called Mr. Guaidó a coup plotter and a Trump administration lackey, and has described the humanitarian aid effort as a pretext for an American invasion directed from Colombia. He broke diplomatic relations with Colombia on Saturday in retaliation.
Mr. Abrams warned that any action taken against Mr. Guaidó would be met with an outcry on behalf of the Venezuelan people and the international community.
As Mr. Trump and his advisers mull options, the Russian government has aligned with Mr. Maduro, sending aid and expressing support for the Venezuelan president’s government.
“Russia will continue to assist the Venezuelan authorities in resolving social and economic problems, including through the provision of legitimate humanitarian aid,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference on Friday with Delcy Rodríguez, the Venezuelan vice president. Russia has pledged to provide food and medicine to the Maduro government, a move that Mr. Abrams questioned as a possible “political weapon” — one that he said could be intended to help Mr. Maduro’s supporters and not Venezuelans who oppose his government.
Mr. Lavrov also said that military intervention on behalf of the United States would be “in defiance of all international norms.” His comments were quickly brushed aside by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, who has in recent days taken to Twitter to lash out at Mr. Maduro’s government.
“Talks between Russia and Maduro’s cronies are only useful if they are discussing retirement beaches for Maduro,” Mr. Bolton said on Friday. “Change is the only way forward in Venezuela.”