Tags: venezuela | sanctions | cuba | russia

Roger Noriega: Trump Deserves a Stronger Venezuela Policy

Roger Noriega: Trump Deserves a Stronger Venezuela Policy
Nicolas Maduro gestures as he speaks during the Simon Bolivar Journalism National Award ceremony at Palacio de Miraflores on June 27, 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela. (Matias Delacroix/Getty Images)

By    |   Wednesday, 24 July 2019 04:34 PM

President Trump got it right when he identified Venezuela’s narcodictator Nicolas Maduro as an intolerable threat. Indeed, defeating Maduro and his co-conspirators is critical to the security of the hemisphere — right up to our southwest border. Helping restore democracy and rebuild Venezuela’s oil-rich economy will pay big dividends. Unfortunately, President Trump must be frustrated that U.S. policy makers have yet to find an effective strategy for reaching that goal.

It is clear now that sanctions and tough talk are not enough to convince the criminals who run Venezuela to surrender their power, fortunes, and impunity. Maduro is the political face of a hive of criminals — led by Maduro’s family, Socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, and Hezbollah ally Tareck el-Aisammi — who have amassed billions from the sale of oil, gold, and cocaine. These are not politicians who can make a tactical retreat and regroup to win the next election. Thugs who have murdered thousands, repressed millions, and looted billions know that ceding power will land them in an American prison or an early grave.

Six months after launching their campaign to topple Maduro, U.S. strategists are still counting on the worst Venezuelans to do what’s best for the country. They fail to acknowledge that the handful of defectors who have abandoned Maduro in recent months did so as part of schemes to save the kingpins Cabello and el-Aissami and to salvage the bulk of the regime. Today, regime leaders are emboldened by the backing of Russia, Cuba, Iran, and China — hostile states that renewed their support after concluding that Washington cannot defeat a regime that it doesn’t understand.

Micromanaged by Cuban intelligence, the regime has consolidated power by corrupting the military, arming rabid mobs, and offering refuge to narcoguerrillas. It manipulates civilian opponents with sticks and carrots — thugs jail, torture, and murder foes, while wealthy cronies buy influence with opposition party bosses. Remarkably, well-financed bagmen of the regime are using their leverage over some opposition politicians to manipulate U.S. policy.

For example, regime financier and indicted money launderer Raúl Gorrín convinced collaborators in the opposition to endorse a half-baked rebellion that would have displaced Maduro but left the worst elements of the regime in power. U.S. diplomats abetted that April 30 plot, which was a poorly kept secret and easily defeated. Had that scheme succeeded, Washington would have been expected to lift sanctions and bless a power-sharing arrangement between an inexperienced interim president and a pack of cutthroat gangsters.

More trouble is brewing now as the opposition falls into the trap of dialogue with the promise of elections — a maneuver the regime has used for decades with a pliant opposition. U.S. diplomats tacitly endorsed these talks, organized by Norway. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that it is inconceivable that free elections can be held while Maduro holds power. He did not say whether credible elections could be organized under the other kingpins — who control all government institutions and wield armed gangs, death squads, militias, and the military.

Nevertheless, the opposition has accepted open-ended negotiations, despite a public pledge that elections would only be accepted after Maduro is replaced by a transitional government. The regime will likely offer elections in exchange for an end to U.S. sanctions. So, it is possible that these talks could force Trump to do something Obama would not: relax sanctions in exchange for phony elections.

President Trump deserves a better strategy — one that can defeat a regime that has the means and the motive to sow chaos on our doorstep.

Until now, the Treasury Department sanctions have targeted officials but missed the powerful entourage that manages vast holdings of regime kingpins. Blacklisting these persons and firms, which are well-known to U.S. officials, will hit the regime harder than ever.

The Venezuelan regime — including the state-run oil company, PDVSA — should be branded a continuing criminal enterprise under U.S. law. Although the United States is not a party to the International Criminal Court, Washington should support the international efforts to charge Maduro and others with gross violations of universally recognized human rights. These actions will challenge other governments to act more forcefully.

Maduro and company — who have been investigated for many years — should be indicted for U.S. crimes, and multimillion rewards should be offered for their arrest. A special unit of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration should be formed to seek and detain indicted persons. U.S. diplomats should work with frontline states — Brazil and Colombia — to undertake law enforcement action to dismantle this criminal regime, which sows violence by abetting dangerous criminal groups in each of these neighboring countries.

Russia and China, which were emboldened by Washington’s ineffective strategy, should be assured that their investments there will only be secure if they break with Maduro now. The Castro regime should know that any fight it starts in Caracas will be finished in Havana.

Surely there are sons of the 19th-century liberator, Simón Bolívar, who are willing to fight for their country, making the way for democratic nations to deliver humanitarian aid and detain the criminal despots who are holding 34 million Venezuelans hostage. U.S. policy makers should do the hard work of finding and supporting these patriots.

Roger Noriega was U.S. Ambassador to the OAS and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs from 2001-05. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and his firm Visión Américas LLC represents U.S. and foreign clients.

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President Trump got it right when he identified Venezuela’s narcodictator Nicolas Maduro as an intolerable threat.
venezuela, sanctions, cuba, russia
Wednesday, 24 July 2019 04:34 PM
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