U.S. slaps new sanctions on Venezuela,
fugitive mayor defiant
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[August 10, 2017]
By Hugh Bronstein and Matt Spetalnick
CARACAS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington
imposed sanctions on eight Venezuelan officials on Wednesday for their
role in creating an all-powerful legislative body loyal to President
Nicolas Maduro, while a mayor-turned-fugitive called for more
The new U.S. sanctions targeted politicians and security figures but
stopped short of actions against Venezuela's vital oil industry. Energy
sector sanctions, which could cripple Venezuela's already ailing
economy, are still being considered, U.S. officials said.
The sanctions followed Friday's installation of a legislative superbody
known as the constituent assembly, made up entirely of allies of the
ruling Socialist Party and armed with the power to re-write the
The assembly's first action was to fire Venezuela's chief prosecutor,
who had accused Maduro of human rights abuses, confirming opposition
fears that the assembly would purge the government of dissenting voices.
Maduro's loyalist Supreme Court has, meanwhile, stepped up the
prosecution of opposition politicians including Ramon Muchacho, mayor of
the wealthy Chacao district of capital city Caracas.
Muchacho appeared in a video shot from a secret location after the court
removed him from office and sentenced him to 15 months in prison on
Tuesday for failing to halt anti-government protests in his district.
"To all Venezuelans, the message is to continue in this struggle," said
a bearded Muchacho, clad in a white T-shirt emblazoned with the
Venezuelan flag and appearing before a plain white backdrop. The video
was circulated on social media.
Chacao has been the epicenter of demonstrations against Maduro and
Muchacho's video could help breathe new life into the protest movement.
The massive street protests seen before the election of the assembly
have lost steam while anti-Maduro activists try to draw up a strategy
for the future.
The Supreme Court said on Wednesday via Facebook that it had sentenced
David Smolansky of the El Hatillo district of Caracas to 15 months in
prison, fired him from his post and ordered his arrest. Smolansky, the
fifth mayor to face such sanctions this year, was also accused of
defying an order to prevent opposition protests from blocking streets.
The sanctions unveiled Wednesday will freeze U.S. assets of the
officials targeted, ban them from travel to the United States and
prohibit Americans from doing business with them. Among those named was
constituent assembly member Adan Chavez, brother of the late socialist
leader Hugo Chavez.
[to top of second column]
Adan Chavez (C), brother of the Venezuela's late President Hugo
Chavez, speaks next to his coffin during the funeral ceremony in
Caracas March 15, 2013. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS/File
"We absolutely reject this act of aggression by the North American
empire, by the government of Washington, and we do not recognize any
sanction against the people of Venezuela," said Foreign Minister Jorge
Arreaza in a televised broadcast."
"Venezuela cannot be sanctioned by anything or anyone."
Washington clamped sanctions on Maduro himself last week following
actions against 13 Venezuelan figures last month.
Experts say individual sanctions have had little or no impact on
Maduro's policies and that broader oil-sector and financial
sanctions may be the only way to make the Venezuelan government feel
More than 125 people have died in violence since the opposition
began a sustained wave of protests in April. Met by rubber bullets,
water cannon and tear gas fired by the National Guard, the
protesters say the crisis demands an early presidential election
that they are sure Maduro would lose.
His popularity has been pounded lower by triple-digit inflation and
acute food and medicine shortages which Maduro blames right-wing
conspirators in league with the U.S. "empire".
The opposition, which gained control of Venezuela's congress in 2015
only to see its decisions nullified by the Supreme Court, boycotted
the July 30 election of the legislative superbody known as the
Maduro says the 545-member assembly will bring peace and prosperity
to Venezuela. Laws passed by the new body will not need approval
from Venezuela's traditional congress, which met on Wednesday to
discuss the region's response to the new body.
In a joint declaration released on Tuesday, countries including
Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile and Colombia condemned the
"breakdown of democratic order" in Venezuela and said they would not
recognize any action taken by its "illegitimate" new constituent
(Additional reporting by Corina Pons, Eyanir Chinea, Diego Ore,
Deisy Buitrago, and Girish Gupta; Editing by W Simon and Tom Brown)
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