Venezuela blasts new EU sanctions

Nicolas Maduro with supporters on May 20.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro responded rapidly to the European Union’s proposal to impose further sanctions on top government officials following the May 20 presidential and state council elections. The 28-country bloc alleges the vote failed to comply with "minimal democratic standards".

Maduro, who won the presidential election by a landslide despite low voter participation, said on May 28: "This is the European Union that arrogantly wants to put its nose in Venezuela's business." He added, "Enough of this old colonialism."

This latest call for sanctions emerged from a meeting of the European Council held on May 28 in Brussels. The council issued a statement referring to "targeted and reversible restrictive measures," that will be applied "swiftly."

EU diplomats speaking to Reuters said the planned sanctions will likely target 11 high-ranking officials in the Venezuelan government. It is believed that the measures will come into effect on June 25.

The statement also calls for new elections in Venezuela following the non-recognition by the EU of those held on May 20.

Despite citing apparent irregularities in the elections, the statement itself clarifies that the EU had no electoral observers on the ground to substantiate these accusations.

By contrast, the international electoral accompaniment program assembled in Venezuela on May 20, including the African Union, the Council of Latin American Electoral Experts (CEELA), and representatives of more than 30 countries, unanimously declared the elections to be free and fair. They cited none of the irregularities that the EU statement mentions.

The plans for new restrictive measures come in the wake of existing EU sanctions against seven government figures that were put in place in January and a ban on the sale of arms to Venezuela that has been in effect since last November.

For its part, the United States has imposed a wide spectrum of sanctions on the South American country. These include prohibiting US citizens and corporations from purchasing new Venezuelan debt since August, and a ban on the buying of existing assets that was issued on May 20.

The European Council statement emphasises that it does not want “to harm the Venezuelan population, whose plight the EU wishes to alleviate”.

Yet, in recent comments, United Nations Independent Human Rights Expert Alfred de Zayas has called sanctions against Venezuela a “crime against humanity”,  because they exacerbate the economic crisis and people’s suffering.

Venezuelan authorities have claimed that financial sanctions led by the US and EU have blocked funds destined to pay for vital imports such as medicine and food.

From Brussels, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said the new measures aim to promote a “serious, meaningful political dialogue between the government and the opposition”.

Alfonso Dastis, Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, also said the European Union’s increased pressure on the Maduro government aims to “convince the regime that the only way out [of the political crisis the country has recently experienced] was a dialogue with all political and social forces”.

Venezuela’s right-wing opposition walked away from the last round of mediated talks and decided to boycott the recent elections, despite numerous calls from Maduro to participate.

Since his victory, Maduro himself has called for "dialogue, reconciliation and reunification".

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]