On January 13, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned seven former opposition lawmakers, among them Luis Parra, who was sworn in as president of the National Assembly (AN, in Spanish) after the Nicolás Maduro regime blocked entry to Venezuela’s congress to Interim President Juan Guaidó and other lawmakers.
In a press release, the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said the actions of Parra and his two vice presidents, lawmakers Franklyn Duarte and José Gregorio Noriega, were “undermining democracy.”
The other sanctioned lawmakers are José Brito, Conrado Antonio Pérez Linares, Adolfo Superlano, and Negal Morales Llovera.
“Treasury has designated seven corrupt National Assembly officials who, at the bidding of Maduro, attempted to block the democratic process in Venezuela,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the release.
Mnuchin reminded parliament officials that the sanctions can be removed “if they side with the people of Venezuela and Juan Guaidó as their legitimate leader.”
In another press release, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said these new measures demonstrate “the United States’ continued commitment to the Venezuelan people in their struggle to restore democracy and prosperity to Venezuela.”
Pompeo called on national security forces to recognize the legitimate source of authority. “We call on Venezuelan security forces to protect the Venezuelan constitution, allow entry of all deputies into the Federal Legislative Palace, and refrain from the use of violence,” said the release.
On January 5, Interim President Guaidó and other lawmakers were prevented from entering the AN for the commencement session, as established by Venezuelan law, and instead held a session in the building of newspaper El Nacional. In that session, 100 lawmakers elected AN’s board of directors and ratified Guaidó as president of the country.
The ruling party and a group of former opposition lawmakers swore in Luis Parra. The government in dispute recognized the lawmaker despite his unconventional election.
The United States and countries of the region have expressed their support for Guaidó’s re-election and their concern about what happened on the day of the swearing-in.
The United States has sanctioned dozens of Venezuelan officials for varying reasons since 2015, including the country’s most important economic sector, the oil industry, but it’s the first time it blacklists people linked or who once were linked to the opposition.
In a statement written on an AN letterhead, the lawmakers involved “energetically and categorically” rejected the U.S. measures.
“It’s unacceptable that foreign nations seek to condition the actions and freedom of thought of our lawmakers,” reads the document. These unilateral measures, they said, do not contribute to “generating contexts of understanding”.
Carlos Eduardo Berrizbeitia, AN second vice-president, told the press that these sanctions resulted from the “deviated democratic conduct” of those involved.
“They brought it on themselves. There is no unjustified sanction […]. It’s an illegitimate board of directors. Our colleagues brought it on themselves for colluding with the regime to attempt to take from Venezuelans the only democratic institution left in the country.”
Lawmaker Simón Calzadilla told Voice of America that the sanctions were bound to happen and that the measures from the U.S. government are for those who violate the Constitution, democratic principles, and turn their back on their people.”