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Gauging The Potential Effects Of U.S. Sanctions Against Venezuela's Leader


Yesterday, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, called Venezuela's election a sham and another step toward dictatorship. Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, held the election in an effort to rewrite his country's constitution. And then the Trump administration announced it was slapping sanctions on Maduro. His U.S. assets will be frozen, and Americans will be banned from doing business with him. Here's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin explaining the decision.


STEVEN MNUCHIN: By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and the support for the people of Venezuela.

CHANG: We have Juan Forero with us on the line from Caracas. He's a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Hey, Juan.

JUAN FORERO: Yeah, hello.

CHANG: So yesterday, Maduro said the sanctions revealed President Trump's desperation and hate. What was the wider response in Venezuela?

FORERO: Well, it depends which side you're on. The government, of course, saw this as an aggressive action by the United States, as an imperial action by the United States. And so there was a situation where basically, Maduro, throughout the latter part of the day, was talking about this on state television. There was an event in which he blasted the Trump administration for having leveled sanctions against him and then said it was part of, you know, imperialist actions by Washington, which is a recurrent theme in the government here, not just this one, but the previous one.

Among the opposition, though, which is the majority in Venezuela and which sees this vote as having been fraudulent, there was - you know, it was welcomed. There had been an expectation for many days that the United States would take some kind of action against the Venezuelan government. So that was celebrated. But, you know, the thing is, is that it was really sort of a dire day in Venezuela because it was just hours after this - it all comes hours after this vote, which is really seen as a pivotal moment here in Venezuelan history and a real blow against democracy.

CHANG: Well, I understand the sanctions, you know, are aimed at Maduro's assets in the U.S. and his business dealings with Americans. But was there ever - was there even really a lot there to begin with? Does he have a lot of assets in the U.S.?

FORERO: I can't imagine that he does. But, you know, the United States sanctions people, other Venezuelan officials. There's many Venezuelan officials who have been sanctioned over many years, and some of them have had assets. I think that the majority have not. The United States never really makes clear exactly who has assets and what they may be. I mean, part of it, really, is just sending the message that you're a pariah government. You know, when your president is on this list, I mean, he's on this list with, you know, the dictator of North Korea and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, people like that. So it's not a good list to be on.

CHANG: Well, let me ask you. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela's Supreme Court just a few months ago. Was that an effective thing to do?

FORERO: I don't think so. I don't think that there was any kind of movement on that. I mean, the Supreme Court is very much in Maduro's camp, and it's not going to change. I mean, this is really an authoritarian government, and the government - the, you know - so I'm sorry. Go ahead.

CHANG: Well, then, from what we know about Maduro, are these sanctions likely to have an impact? In just the 30 seconds we have left.

FORERO: Listen, it's unclear at the moment. I mean, they'll have some kind of effect. I'm not sure that it's going to be a positive effect because one of the issues that I think many experts on Venezuela agree on is that if there is going to be some way out of this crisis at some point, which would be probably, foremost, an election, there's going to be some kind of negotiation that has to take place between the government and the opposition.

CHANG: That's The Wall Street Journal's Juan Forero, speaking to us from Caracas. He joined us via Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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