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Experts: Venezuelan sanction strategy must foster diplomacy

By Hannah Levitt, Medill News Service
Experts say the international community should be prepared to impose sanctions with increasing severity to urge Nicolas Maduro's government to pull back on the undemocratic steps it has been pursuing. Photo courtesy of Miraflores Palace Press Office/EPA
Experts say the international community should be prepared to impose sanctions with increasing severity to urge Nicolas Maduro's government to pull back on the undemocratic steps it has been pursuing. Photo courtesy of Miraflores Palace Press Office/EPA

WASHINGTON -- While economic and diplomatic sanctions are effective in dealing with Venezuela, Latin America specialists say that the United States should work with other countries to apply pressure in favor of democracy while offering much-needed humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people.

Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy's Francisco Monaldi and Atlantic Council Global Energy Center's David Mortlock said Wednesday that sanctions are a useful tool for pressuring the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to rethink its move toward authoritarian rule.

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"The end goal is not sanctions themselves but a negotiated diplomatic solution," Mortlock said in a conference call sponsored by the Atlantic Council.

Mortlock and Monaldi said the international community should be prepared to impose sanctions with increasing severity to urge the Maduro government to pull back on the undemocratic steps it has been pursuing.

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On Wednesday, the Treasury Department sanctioned eight more Venezuelans for supporting a new constituent assembly in the South American country. The constituent assembly was created after balloting last month, rejected by the United States as "an undemocratic process instigated by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government to subvert the will of the Venezuelan people."

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Mornaldi and Mortlock warned in an August paper that the constituent assembly has the ability to expand power and is set to eliminate democratic governance.

Representatives of 12 countries -- Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru -- met in Lima to sign a declaration Tuesday that condemned the rupture in Venezuela's democratic order.

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Jason Marczak, Latin America director at the Atlantic Council, said the regional action took place notably without the presence of the United States. There was no clear information on why the United States did not attend. Marczak said the optimal scenario would be that instead of leading the regional effort, the United States should coordinate sanctions with those countries.

Sanctions so far against individual Venezuelans are punitive but do not impact the overall Venezuelan economy, Monaldi said during the conference call, but future sanctions could be more onerous.

Potential next steps could include limiting access to financing for Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the state-owned oil company, banning U.S. exports to Venezuela, banning U.S. oil imports from Venezuela, and finally designating PDVSA on the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons, Monaldi said.

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As sanctions have a significant impact on both the local economy and the economies of the nations enacting the sanctions, it could be difficult to persuade some governments to share the cost of the heavier sanctions, Mortlock said.

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Monaldi added that Venezuelans are worried about increased economic sanctions that could further drive down the country's standard of living.

Sanctions should accompany a clear message of what changes the United States and international partners expect in order for sanctions to be lifted, Mortlock said.

"We all lose if Venezuela continues on this path toward instability and potentially even civil war," Mortlock said.

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