MH Editorial Board: Tighten the Screws on Venezuela

Saturday, May 17, 2014
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Tighten the screws on Venezuela

OUR OPINION: Maduro government’s failure to negotiate strengthens case for U.S. sanctions

The failure of Venezuela’s government to bargain in good faith with leaders of the pro-democracy movement strengthens the case for imposing U.S. sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro’s cronies and the beneficiaries of his corrupt regime.

Given the government’s slide into authoritarian rule, there never seemed to be much chance that it would use the talks to engage in political healing, but opponents gave it a try. On Tuesday, however, the head of the democratic umbrella group, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, labeled the talks a farce and said the negotiations had yielded little except insults from the government side.

And, while the government paid lip service to its supposed desire to ease the crisis, security forces stepped up political repression against its foes, and Mr. Maduro’s bureaucrats imposed new economic measures that offer fresh evidence of their incompetent management.

Police last week raided four makeshift camps in Caracas set up by anti-government demonstrators and detained 243 students. At least a dozen were charged with a variety of felonies designed to cow the protest movement. The raids came one day after the government said it would start rationing water in Caracas and electricity in western Zulia state, adding to shortages of everything from toilet paper to flour.

Three months of protests against the declining standard of living have cost at least 42 lives. Even so, Mr. Maduro apparently has decided to tough it out rather than find a non-confrontational way out of the crisis.

He has refused to make any concessions to the opposition, such as allowing the release of political prisoners or finding room for non-government members on an electoral commission. The refusal of a Maduro ally who leads the National Assembly to step down as head of the commission investigating the street clashes and political violence of the past few months was the last straw for Mr. Aveledo and pro-democracy forces.

Up to now, the Obama administration has made a good case for restraint in order to avoid giving the Maduro government a pretext to frame the issue as a fight between Venezuela and the United States. The political battle in that country is between the government and its own citizens, who are understandably fed up with 15 years of corrupt and increasingly undemocratic rule.

But as Sen. Marco Rubio astutely pointed out at a Senate hearing on Venezuela last week, the die is already cast. Mr. Maduro’s government has repeatedly pronounced itself a foe of the United States. At the same time, the Miami lawmaker pointed out, some of Mr. Maduro’s associates have gotten rich from political deals with Venezuela’s rulers. They have stashed their money in this country and used their profits to buy property in Miami, among other places. What is to be lost, at this point, by imposing sanctions on them?

During the hearing, Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told a clearly disbelieving Mr. Rubio that members of the opposition wanted the government to refrain from imposing sanctions while talks are under way. On Wednesday, Ms. Jacobson said she had been mistaken and that no such request had been received from the opposition.

No one should expect that sanctions will produce rapid changes. But until now, only those courageous enough to raise their voices on behalf of democracy in Venezuela have felt any pain. It’s time for Mr. Maduro’s cronies to get a taste of their own medicine.