This week, the United States Treasury Department placed sanctions on three Venezuelans – Pedro Martin, Walter Del Nogal, and Mario Rodriguez – under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. The move comes less than two weeks before scheduled presidential elections in Venezuela.
In a press release, the Treasury Department described Martin as “a significant foreign narcotics trafficker.” Martin, the former Chief of Financial Intelligence for Venezuela’s domestic intelligence agency, was indicted in US federal court on drug trafficking charges in 2015.
“This action is in response to Martin’s extensive drug trafficking and money laundering activities. Systemic corruption and a collapse in the rule of law are defining features of Venezuela’s government,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “We will deny corrupt Venezuelan regime officials access to the US financial system as we work with international partners to support the Venezuelan people in restoration of democracy and a return to prosperity.”
Del Nogal allegedly assists Martin “with drug distribution and money movements to Europe as well as laundering illicit narcotics proceeds out of Venezuela.” Rodriguez is described as Martin’s “right-hand man” and allegedly launders the illicit gains out of Venezuela.
The United States also sanctioned 20 business in Venezuela and Panama related to Martin, Del Nogal, and Rodriguez. According to the Treasury Department, “These companies are allegedly used to launder illicit proceeds from both narcotics trafficking and extortion, and purportedly engage in a range of activities, including private security, transportation, installation of electronics, real estate, construction, finished oil products, consulting, and financial services.”
The sanctions block the three individuals’ and their companies’ assets in the US. It also prohibit US citizens from dealing with Martin, Del Nogal, Rodriguez or their companies. Violating theForeign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act can result in more than $1.4 million in civil fines per violation and up to 10 years in prison for individuals. Corporate officers who violate the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act face up to $5 million and 30 years in prison. Corporations face up to $10 million in fines.
Trump’s sanctions strategy
The administration of President Donald Trump has repeatedly levied sanctions against high-ranking government officials in Venezuela.
The US began ratcheting up sanctions on Venezuela last year in the wake of several maneuvers by President Nicolás Maduro to consolidate power, including the creation of a new legislative body to replace the democratically elected and opposition-controlled National Assembly. Following that vote, the US placed sanctions on the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, and several high-ranking government officials, including President Maduro.
In January, the Trump administration announced sanctions on four current and former senior officers in the Venezuelan military.
At the time, Secretary Mnuchin said the sanctions “underscores the United States’ resolve to hold Maduro and others engaged in corruption in Venezuela accountable.”
The Trump administration’s strategy of targeted sanctions has not stopped Maduro from consolidating power. The presidential election on May 20 is seen by many in the international community and the Venezuelan opposition as fraudulent and simply a tactic to provide legitimacy to the current regime and not as a true expression of the democratic will of the Venezuelan people.
In remarks given during a meeting of the Organization of American States, US Vice President Mike Pence called the upcoming election a “sham.”
“ll be a fake election, with a fake outcome,” said Pence. “Maduro and his acolytes have already ensured that their reign of corruption, crime, narco-trafficking, and terror will continue.”
Maduro postponed the elections in March, but it appears that the government will go forward with the May 20 elections.