Venezuela’s foreign ministry has demanded President Obama retract an executive order declaring the South American state a threat to US national security in a combative full-page advert published in the New York Times.
The advertisement – published under the title: “Letter to the people of the United States: Venezuela is not a threat” – also demands the cancellation of sanctions against seven senior law enforcement and military officials, accused by the US of corruption and human rights violations.
The order, issued last week, blocks the seven individuals – including Venezuela’s head of intelligence and a senior prosecutor – from entering the US, freezes their assets in the country, and prohibits US citizens from engaging in business with them.
The advert, published on Tuesday, frames the sanctions as an attack on Venezuela’s sovereignty.
“Never before in the history of our nations, has a president of the United States attempted to govern Venezuelans by decree,” the letter argues. “It is a tyrannical and imperial order and it pushes us back to the darkest days of the relationship between the United States and Latin American and the Caribbean.”
Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, seized on the order to call for emergency powers, which the Venezuelan national assembly, controlled by Maduro’s United Socialist party, passed on Sunday. The “Anti-Imperialist Law for Peace”, passed after a debate lasting about two hours, allows Maduro to rule by decree. It remains unclear how the president plans to use the new powers.
Maduro’s popularity rating has plummeted in recent months to about 22% as inflation in Venezuela soars to over 60% and the price of oil – of which the US is a key export market – sinks to a five-year low.
David Smilde a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America said the New York Times advert was arguably designed to serve Maduro’s domestic political cause rather than his international relations.
“This is what Maduro spends all his time talking about – that there’s economic war [with the US], that there’s an effort to try to undermine Venezuela, to sabotage it. Now this declaration of a national security threat fits perfectly with that narrative and provides it with substance,” Smilde said.
“The more Maduro can keep attention on this, the better opportunity for him. So it [the letter] doesn’t surprise me. I think it is probably more written to the Venezuelan people than to Americans.”
The seven officials named in the sanctions are alleged to have orchestrated the harsh crackdowns against anti-government protests last year and the arrest of a number of opposition politicians. Anti-government protests and arrests of politicians have continued into 2015.
The timing of the White House sanctions has been interpreted as a way of exerting influence on the National Assembly elections later in the year. No date has been set for the vote and it is unclear if Maduro’s newly acquired powers will bear any influence on the timing.
Dr Gregory Weeks, an expert in Venezuelan politics and chair of the department of political science and public administration at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, said the sanctions would now make it harder for other leaders in the region to lobby for clean elections.
“I tend to think that the US acting unilaterally is going to make it even harder for Latin American presidents to speak out against Maduro because they don’t want to be seen as simply doing what the US wants,” Weeks said. “I would have gone for more quiet diplomacy with Latin American leaders and not become a sort of lightning rod with this very public decision and the inflammatory language attached to it.”
The Union of South American Nations, a regional intergovernmental body, has condemned Obama’s executive order.
Source: The Guardian