U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Venezuela’s Vice President, Calling Him a Drug ‘Kingpin’

The New York TimesCARACAS, Venezuela — The Trump administration announced sanctions against Venezuela’s vice president on Monday, calling him a drug “kingpin” in its first moves against the country’s leftist government that President Trump railed against during his campaign.

Vice President Tareck El Aissami, according to a Treasury Department statement, was being sanctioned for “playing a significant role in international narcotics trafficking.” The sanctions mean that Mr. El Aissami, 42, will be blocked from financial dealings with Americans and will have any American assets frozen.

Such actions against officials in the government of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela are nothing new in a long and fraught relationship between Washington and Caracas. But the accusation that Mr. El Aissami, the next in line for the presidency, was a drug trafficker was certain to set a new, more hostile tone in relations.

“This can be seen as the opening salvo of the Trump administration in dealing with Latin America’s deepest crisis,” said Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington. “It is hard to imagine that, with this decision, Washington will now be inclined to offer many carrots to the increasingly authoritarian regime.”

Since taking office, Mr. Trump has come under increasing pressure by both Republicans and some Democrats to take a tougher stance on Venezuela, which has suffered an economic collapse punctuated by food and medicine shortages and soaring crime, even as its government has taken a harsher stance against dissent. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.