The White House slammed Venezuela with a new round of sanctions earlier this week, in a move that indicates the U.S. plans to continue its hardliner stance on corruption and human rights abuses committed by members the Maduro regime. These latest penalties are in retaliation for a “currency exchange network scheme,” in which several high ranking members of the Venezuelan government, including former treasurer Claudia Patricia Diaz Guillen, used their positions to “conduct illegal foreign exchange operations” — what amounted to buying foreign currency with Venezuelan bolivars and selling it for a higher price. The U.S. Treasury claims Diaz Guillen and her associates bribed Venezuela’s Office of the National Treasury in order to allow the group to run its scheme uninhibited.
“Venezuelan regime insiders have plundered billions of dollars from Venezuela while the Venezuelan people suffer. Treasury is targeting this currency exchange network which was another illicit scheme that the Venezuelan regime had long used to steal from its people,” wrote Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in a press release.
Throughout the scam, Diaz Guillen and her team pocketed about $2.4 billion, according to the U.S. Treasury, which argues that money could have been better spent on the critical food and supply shortages the South American country is facing. The most recent sanctions are targeted at Diaz Guillen and six other individuals, including Raul Antonio Gorrin Belisario, a Venezuelan business mogul whose empire includes the television network Globovision, according to a report from Bloomberg. The U.S. Treasury also identified 23 entities that were used in the bribery scheme, and is allowing U.S. citizens to move assets out of the affected firms before the deadline in 2020, according to Reuters.
These are not the first sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Venezuela or its government in recent years. Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, has claimed these sanctions are illegal and continues to blame the U.S. for the majority of his country’s woes — which include extreme poverty, a more than one million percent inflation rate, a crumbling health care infrastructure, and mass migration to neighboring countries. Maduro won the last presidential election in 2018, however, many international leaders claimed the election was rigged or otherwise unfair. He is scheduled to be inaugurated on Thursday of this week.
While the sanctions may create more uneasiness for Venezuela’s leaders, more pressure still may be coming in the wake of a report by Human Rights Watch and the Venezuelan Penal Forum which detailed scores of incidents where members of Venezuela’s military have been arbitrarily detained and tortured by security forces. According to one report from Reuters, many of the victims were soldiers who were suspected of plotting to overthrow the Maduro regime. Venezuelan security forces also harassed the soldiers’ families.
This is far from the first time Venezuela’s security forces have come under fire for alleged human rights abuses. In 2018, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released information that corruption and abuse were running rampant among the country’s law enforcement forces. The report also claims the perpetrators were never brought to justice for a myriad of crimes including extrajudicial “killings, the use of excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture.”