WASHINGTON – The United States imposed sanctions on Monday on lawmaker Luis Parra and six other Venezuelans who sought earlier this month to take over leadership of that country’s legislature, which has been controlled by the opposition since 2015.
In a press release, the US Treasury Department designated those individuals as “current or former officials of the government of Venezuela for their actions undermining democracy,” adding that they were “corrupt National Assembly officials” who were doing the bidding of Venezuela’s leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro.
It described that move earlier this month as a “failed attempt to illegitimately seize control of the National Assembly and block interim President Juan Guaido and other deputies from participating in a constitutionally required election of National Assembly leadership.”
Treasury said that, in addition to Parra, the other individuals designated were Jose Gregorio Noriega Figueroa, Franklyn Leonardo Duarte, Jose Dionisio Brito Rodriguez, Conrado Antonio Perez Linares, Adolfo Ramon Superlano and Negal Manuel Morales Llovera.
On Jan. 5, Maduro’s allies in the National Assembly and some opposition lawmakers elected Parra to replace Guaido as speaker. Parra is a former member of the opposition Justice First party who was expelled due to corruption allegations that he denies.
During the session, security forces barred Guaido and other opposition lawmakers from entering the building.
Hours after Parra’s election, Guaido led an improvised congressional session at the offices of an anti-Maduro newspaper, where they voted to re-elect him as speaker.
The opposition says the Jan. 5 session in which new parliamentary leadership was installed was illegitimate due to the lack of a quorum of 84 lawmakers (a group of 67 legislators elected Parra).
Guaido was first elected to head the National Assembly in January 2019 and a few weeks later was declared the nation’s interim president by that body, which justified the move by asserting that Maduro’s re-election victory in 2018 was marred by fraud.
Two days after the move to elect Parra, opposition lawmakers forced their way into the Assembly, where Guaido took his oath of office in a Jan. 7 session in which electricity was cut to the building.
The action by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control freezes any assets those seven Venezuelan individuals may have under US jurisdiction and bars them from conducting financial transactions with American citizens.
Last Friday, the Organization of American States condemned the “intimidating tactics” used on Jan. 5 and backed Guaido as the rightful speaker of the National Assembly.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Guaido on his re-election as legislative speaker and condemned the “the failed efforts of the former Maduro regime to negate the will of the democratically elected National Assembly.”
Since being proclaimed Venezuela’s interim president, Guaido has been recognized as such by the US and roughly 60 other countries.
But he has no influence over the bureaucracy or armed forces, which have publicly declared their support for Maduro and rejected the opposition’s overtures, including an unsuccessful attempt by Guaido on April 30, 2019, to spark a military uprising.
The opposition’s control over the National Assembly in recent years has been largely symbolic because Maduro, who is still backed by China, Russia and dozens of other countries, sidelined the legislature in 2017 by creating a plenipotentiary body known as the National Constituent Assembly.