Crippling sanctions must be applied on the Venezuelan oil industry and on the armed forces 

The time of decision has arrived in Venezuela.

Something seems to be different this time.

A new leader of the opposition has emerged who is capable of mobilizing and unifying the people, something no Venezuelan opposition leader has been able to do before. The man, Juan Guaidó, is a 35-year-old politician who was elected as member of the National Assembly for the State of Vargas in 2010 and last year as president of the body. He belongs to the Voluntad Popular Party (Popular Will), a social democratic party founded by Leopoldo Lopez, currently under house arrest, imprisoned by the regime of Nicolas Maduro.

Guaidó has courageously mobilized millions of people onto the streets of Venezuela, sending a clear message that Maduro is not a legitimate president, according to Venezuela’s own constitution. Guaidó has now publicly declared himself Interim President of Venezuela, openly defying the dictatorship.

Guaidó received support and recognition from the Organization of American States (OEA) under the exemplary leadership of Secretary Luis Almagro and from various countries in the Western Hemisphere including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru. Despite the fact that Bolivia, Cuba, and Mexico continue to support Maduro, there is mounting pressure regionally and increasingly, from elsewhere, on the regime to resign.

More importantly, the United States is playing an important role. Not only has the U.S recognized Guaidó as president but it also has called for the removal of Nicolas Maduro. (In response, Maduro broke relations with the U.S and gave the diplomatic personnel 72 hours to leave the country).

For the first time since the rise to power of Hugo Chavez in 1999, the U.S administration has openly made such a declaration without any regard for accusations of imperialism, without invoking anachronistic traumas of the past, or expressing unfounded fear of provoking regional anti-Americanism.

The 21 January detention of a group of 25 Venezuelan military officers for attempting to rebel against the regime raised the hope that the military might abandon its loyalty to the Maduro regime. Guaidó himself during the 23 January demonstrations made several calls on the military to abandon Maduro and even offered amnesty to those who may choose to desert. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed these calls from Washington, DC.  As of yet, however, there are no signs that the military is abandoning Maduro in the face of the current crisis. Once again, for the umpteenth time, the population is expressing hope in a military desertion and for the umpteenth time, the military disappoints. Worse yet, it seems that the military will remain loyal to Maduro to the very end. Let us open our eyes and admit that the military is part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Based on Guaidó’s own declarations, he will not stop until Maduro leaves the Miraflores Palace. Therefore, these demonstrations and protests are likely to last a long time. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that the Maduro regime will proceed to repress the Venezuelan people with the help of the military, para-military, Cuban advisers, common thugs and criminals, and, possibly also former FARC terrorists and Hezbollah fighters. The chances that a conflicted Venezuela will turn into a Syria of the Caribbean should not be discarded.

Therefore, as we have already suggested in the past, the Trump Administration must act quickly. First of all, it must apply heavy pressure on the Venezuelan military. True and effective sanctions have not been applied on the military as yet. The military has expanded its role in the economy and other civil sectors. In fact, the ideology of the Venezuelan regime is based on a civic-military union. The military is the backbone of the regime. The military is in charge of importing food, manufacturing clothing, running its own TV channel as well as owning a car assembly plant and construction company. Lately, the military was given control of a large company-  Compañía Anónima Militar de Industrias Mineras, Petrolíferas y de Gas (Camimpeg) – that deals with mining, oil, and gas. The military owns oil wells, sells and also distributes oil and gas products. According to an agreement with the government, its economic activities are not to be scrutinized by the government. Similarly, there are many other companies that were created specifically for the military.

It is here that the Trump Administration must act forcefully and assertively. So far, only 44 individuals from the Venezuelan regime have been sanctioned by the U.S Treasury. For example, the Venezuelan Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino, who is the main protector and mentor of the military, has not been sanctioned as yet. Under Padrino’s tenure, the military increased its power in terms of wealth, privileges, and weapons.

Strong sanctions must be applied on the military as a whole and this must include sanctions on the entire oil sector. There might be opposition from those who work in the energy sector or are tied to the Louisiana–based refineries, but at this point there is no choice. It is not in the U.S.’ best interest to have in our neighborhood a narco-state that maintains ties to terrorist groups and rogue regimes such as Iran’s. Therefore, it is also time to declare Venezuela a sponsor of terrorism.

Likewise, the United States must reach out to the European community and ask those countries to follow suit. Venezuelan officers must be sanctioned and denied visas by every Western country and U.S ally.

It is very important not to miss this momentum that has been created in Venezuela. What has been accomplished so far is what many have been hoping for a long time: strong leadership, massive civil disobedience, regional consensus, and a U.S Administration determined to remove the Maduro regime.

We should not let go until the Maduro regime is no more.


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