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Marco Rubio Calls for Sanctions Against Venezuela’s Maduro

Marco Rubio (L) is calling for sanctions against Venezuela's Maduro. (Creative Commons composite photo)

Marco Rubio (L) is calling for sanctions against Venezuela’s Maduro. (Creative Commons composite photo)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Wednesday accused Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro of “undermining democracy” and called for sanctions against those in his regime who are “suffocating democracy.”

Three weeks after Venezuela’s opposition surprised much of the world with a resounding election victory that saw the “Chavismo” movement, named after the late socialist president Hugo Chávez, lose its majority in the nation’s 167-seat assembly, leading opposition figures warned of what they called an attempt by Maduro to mount a “judicial coup.”

Writing to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Jesús Torrealba, executive secretary of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), accused Maduro’s government of “pushing the entire country to the brink of disaster” with its “irresponsible behavior.” Torrealba warned this could have “grave consequences for the entire region.”

Sen. Rubio, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president and is gaining ground on frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in leading national polls, agreed with Torrealba’s assessment, accusing Maduro of “sabotaging the will of the Venezuelan people.”

“There’s mounting evidence that the Maduro regime in Venezuela has no intention of accepting the results of last month’s legislative elections,” Rubio said in a statement. “By first manipulating the judicial system to block some parliamentarians from being sworn in and then intimidating others by blocking their entry into the National Assembly‎, Maduro’s puppets seem intent on sabotaging the will of the Venezuelan people.”

Maduro, who has alleged that the December 6 elections were marred by fraud, moved to challenge the opposition supermajority by contesting the election of several deputies. Last week, the country’s high court ruled in favor of Maduro, temporarily barring three deputies from taking office.

The US State Department voiced its concern over what many see as Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian actions. Spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday that the US was “concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to interfere with the newly elected National Assembly exercising its constitutionally mandated duties.”

Rubio is calling for more than just concern. The senator urged the Obama administration and regional leaders to take punitive action against Maduro and anyone in his government who flouts democracy in Venezuela.

“The Maduro regime must stop threatening and intimidating the duly elected representatives of the Venezuelan people,” Rubio said. “The Obama administration and other democratically elected governments of the Western Hemisphere have a duty to not only speak out against this flagrant subversion of democracy but also to take action to ensure that this democratic opportunity in Venezuela does not slip away right before our eyes. This should include applying sanctions on individuals planning, ordering or carrying out these efforts that violate human rights by further suffocating democracy in Venezuela.”

Maduro dismissed accusations his government is attempting to subvert democracy in Venezuela. In a Monday evening television address, he insisted the new assembly “will be installed in peace respecting the constitution, the laws and all public powers.”

On Wednesday, a day after the opposition took control of the National Assembly, Maduro announced a cabinet reshuffle which he said would help protect the Bolivarian Revolution—the leftist social and economic reforms implemented with mixed results by Chávez—in the new political era.

While Chávez’s reforms raised the standard of living for millions of Venezuela’s poorest citizens through economic redistribution and improvements in health care and education, major cracks in the system were appearing by the time of the former president’s death. Maduro inherited a rapidly deteriorating economy, with soaring inflation, unemployment, crime rates and capital flight leaving Venezuelans reeling. Food shortages and even hunger are afflicting residents of the oil-rich nation, which has been further crippled by low oil prices.

Last March, Maduro included Rubio on a list of American politicians banned from entering Venezuela, a move the senator called “a badge of honor.”

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