Trump’s next move against Venezuela’s Maduro relies on action from allies

The next phase of President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro may rely on his diplomatic skills.

Trump’s advisers want Europe and Latin America to aggressively expand multilateral sanctions that will compound “political and psychological pressure” on Maduro and his aides, according to a senior State Department official.

Their goal is to block key Maduro officials from banking and traveling within Europe and the Americas, building on existing U.S. sanctions that have revoked hundreds of U.S. visas from Maduro-linked individuals and banned U.S. financial transactions with Venezuelan entities.

Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative for Venezuela, told McClatchy and the Miami Herald in a recent interview that the administration is pushing the European Union and Rio Treaty nations to match Washington’s unilateral sanctions.

“It would be great for some of the people involved in the regime’s crimes not to be able to travel in Latin America,” Abrams said. “You have bank accounts in Latin America. So there’s a variety of forms of pressure, and we think that expanding the pressures to include European and Latin democracies is a useful form of political and psychological pressure on the regime.”

The European Union recently imposed economic sanctions on seven individuals associated with the capture and murder of Rafael Acosta Arévalo, a Venezuelan military officer accused of conspiring against Maduro who died in government custody. But the Trump administration is pushing for more.

“We want to see EU sanctions,” Abrams said. “We would like to see broader sanctions than that.”

The United States and more than 50 countries recognize Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly, as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. But efforts to force Maduro out of power through sanctions have yet to deliver.

One former Trump administration official told McClatchy that the administration’s current plan suggests the White House is running out of options to act on its own.

“To be frank, we have run out of unilateral options, but it’s also very important that we go back to treating this as a multilateral issue,” the former official stated. “The U.S. government worked very hard at the beginning of this administration to make this a coalition effort and there were results – over 55 countries now recognize Guaidó as president.”

“It’s important to take a step back now and let the international community catch up in many ways,” the official added.

Trump and his aides at a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York underscored their commitment to the Venezuelan opposition, Abrams said, and sought to “put to rest any of that nonsense about a change in policy, a diminution of interest or in pressure.”

Administration policy has not changed since the departure of John Bolton, the president’s third national security adviser, last month, he said.

But while 16 nations in the Western Hemisphere invoked the Rio Treaty, also known as TIAR, during the U.N. summit as a legal framework for regional sanctions, the parties now must begin the hard work of producing a list of sanctions they all can agree on.

Abrams said the process might take some time.

“I think what we need to do, really, is to identify the names that we will start with that everyone will agree on. And the mechanism is an important one, because in a number of cases, there’s no domestic legislation that deals with economic sanctions in particular,” Abrams said.

“We need to get to work on specific cases,” he continued, “and translate this invocation of the treaty into actual naming of names.”

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Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.
Nora Gámez Torres estudió periodismo y comunicación en La Habana y Londres. Tiene un doctorado en sociología y desde el 2014 cubre temas cubanos para el Nuevo Herald y el Miami Herald. También reporta sobre la política de Estados Unidos hacia América Latina. Su trabajo ha sido reconocido con premios de Florida Society of News Editors y Society for Profesional Journalists.