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U.S. Imposes New Sanctions On Venezuelan Officials


Several countries are increasing pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he continues moving forward with plans to rewrite the country's constitution and consolidate his power. Neighboring Latin American countries condemned Maduro's actions at a meeting this week. Peru's foreign minister says his country is concerned about a migration crisis if a low-intensity civil war were to break out. And now, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on eight more Venezuelan officials. For more, we're joined by NPR's Philip Reeves, who's in Caracas. Hi, Phil.


CHANG: So who exactly do these sanctions target, and what will the sanctions do?

REEVES: Well, these are mostly officials who the U.S. say were involved in organizing the creation of the constitutional assembly here. This new assembly was created by Maduro to rewrite the constitution. It started work at the end of last week. It's already kicked out the attorney general - excuse me - although she's been challenging the government, but she doesn't recognize that decision, says she'll stay in office. It's also taken over the chamber used by the elected Congress, which is opposition controlled.

And most importantly, it's passed a decree declaring itself the most powerful legislature in the land. The U.S. says the constitutional assembly is illegitimate. It sees it as evidence that Maduro is tightening his grip on dictatorial power. Many other countries agree with that. There's overwhelming evidence that the elections that created this body were fraudulent.

CHANG: Tell us more about the current situation in Venezuela. Have there been more protests, more violence?

REEVES: Well, the street protests have actually fizzled out in the last few days. And this is fueling speculation that the opposition, which is divided, is running out of steam. People are exhausted. These protests have been going on for four months. They've been going on in the streets practically every day. 125 people have been killed during those four months, mostly - many of them by the security services. And thousands have been injured. Thousands have been arrested. So it looks as if Maduro is using this lull to quicken the pace of introducing his autocratic new measures. And one of the people - one group of people that he's targeting are opposition mayors.

Five opposition mayors have been sentenced to prison in the last two weeks, the latest being a guy called David Smolansky, who's a very prominent opposition leader. Last night, the Supreme Court - which usually passes these sentences, it's government controlled - sentenced him to 15 months in prison. Usually the court does this on a pretext that the mayor didn't carry out some sort of order it passed. For instance, you know, failing to guarantee free movement to the district because of protests.

CHANG: Looking outward for a moment, what are Maduro's relations like with Venezuela's neighbors? Are they likely to have any more influence on Maduro than the U.S., which is seen as an adversary?

REEVES: It's very hard to say who's going to have any influence on Venezuela, but a lot of the neighbors are getting very worried. In fact, they got together in Peru on Tuesday. And this was a meeting that included some of the heavyweights in the region - Mexico, Brazil, Canada. And after talking about the growing crisis here and their growing concern about the crisis, they issued a statement condemning the breakdown of democratic order in Venezuela, condemning the new assembly - the new constitutional assembly as illegitimate, condemning the systematic violation of human rights. So they are getting very worried.

CHANG: Right.

REEVES: Venezuela doesn't have many friends - Nicaragua, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador - but its isolation is deepening.

CHANG: One concern Peru has - some 40,000 refugees have fled to their country from Venezuela over the past six months. Have you seen any indication of more people making preparations to leave the country?

REEVES: Absolutely. I was out walking around in Caracas, talking to people - you see long lines at foreign embassies. Talk to young people, they all want out. They say their salaries are worthless. They're having no fun. They can't go out at night because it's dangerous.

CHANG: OK. That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Venezuela. Thank you so much, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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