WASHINGTON – The United States Special Representative to Venezuela Elliott Abrams said fresh sanctions would be drawn up against those who “undermine democracy” in the crisis-hit South American nation in the coming week.
The US is one of around 50 countries that recognize Juan Guaido as the legitimate interim president in Venezuela.
Guaido, who is the speaker of the national Parliament and a fierce critic of Venezuela’s embattled incumbent Nicolas Maduro, made headlines again on Sunday when he was prevented from accessing the National Assembly by police as Chavista legislators inside voted in their own parliamentary leader, Luis Parra.
Pro-Guaido lawmakers swore him in Tuesday following a stand-off with police.
On Sunday, police prevented Guaido from entering the National Assembly and you announced on Monday that the US would draw up sanctions against the Maduro government, who will these sanctions target?
We don’t like to talk too much or too specifically about future sanctions, but we do have sanctions on people who undermine democracy and some of the people involved in what happened on Sunday, Monday, very clearly fit that description.
There will be some additional sanctions.
With these restrictions affect Russia or Cuba (two of Maduro’s allies)?
We’re talking about the coming days against the Venezuelans involved in these activities.
We are also taking a very careful look at what the Russians are doing and I think you’ll see some action on that, but that will come out over a longer period of time.
On separate occasions, you have acknowledged that Washington underestimates Russian and Cuban support for Maduro. Was there an error on the part of the US?
As I came into this, it was clear that Cubans were there.
They have a few thousand intelligence agents there. And as we studied more and more what they were doing it became clearer and clearer what was going on in the Venezuelan military.
They are watched by these Cuban spies every day.
So it became clear that the Cuban role was more and more important, the more we looked at it and when we asked about the behavior of people in the military, we could see the presence of the Cubans spying on them, clearly limited their behavior.
And it’s very clear that people in the high command of the military are afraid because they know they’re being spied on, constantly afraid to talk, afraid to make telephone calls, afraid to send emails.
And Russia? Was their role misinterpreted?
On the Russian question, I think, actually a Russian role has grown. (...) So I think, it is not so much that we misunderstood. But the Russian role has actually grown in 2019.
You mention that senior officials in the Venezuelan military are afraid to reply to emails and take calls. Last year you said you were in contact with several of them, are you still in touch with them?
Well, I don’t want to talk about that. It’s not our calls or emails, it’s their own among themselves.
That is, if you’re a general if you’re a colonel, if you feel like saying to a fellow officer whom you’ve known for years, Colonel to Colonel and General to General: “I don’t like what happened on Sunday. I don’t think that’s the right way to use the National Guard.”
Well, you are probably not going to say that, you’re not going to say it on the phone. You’re not going to say it in the email, because you’re going to end up in jail or worse.
And with Guaido, when was the last time you were in contact with him? What did you discuss?
Oh, I was in contact with him, I guess Monday to say something about what happened on Sunday and then I was in contact with him after he was elected by 100 deputies to congratulate him. So we are in reasonably frequent touch.