The U.S. decision to declare Venezuela a threat to national security and to sanction seven officials marks a shocking turning point in their already deteriorated relationship and opens a breach of unsuspected outcomes in Washington's approach and analysis of what is happening with the government of Nicolas Maduro.
The grounds of the declaration of national emergency are not drug trafficking, as was the case of the Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers List (the "Clinton List") in 1995, which attacked Colombian drug dealers and their financial circle. Neither is it terrorism or its sponsorship, as in the Syrian or Cuban cases. It is because of human rights violations. Give or take a few words, they are sanctioned for "persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to anti-government protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of anti-government protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption," according to President Obama in his executive order.
Those involved are officials or former officials who were directly related to the handling, in many cases brutal, of the protests of February 2014, and even with the judicial treatments of those detained, alluding to the prosecutor responsible for the case against opposition leader and now imprisoned Caracas metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma. Even worse, the executive order credits the government itself as being the root of all evils.
In practical terms, the removal of visas or the economic blockage of these characters should not cause major impact, but the political gesture should be interpreted by Caracas leadership as a warning that it is part of the escalating disgust of Washington.
It was clear that Obama had suppressed further sanctions, pending effective mediation of the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), but the development of events precipitated everything. Moreover, Republican sectors, which now rule both houses, demanded a less contemplative approach toward Maduro, and with the prospect of the process of fixing relations with Havana, it seems to be better to give them some peace in at least one of the items.
That is why Washington has been careful not to make the mistake, as it has occurred with the imposition of sanctions on other countries, of ending up strengthening the regimes it is fighting, as it happened with Iran and Cuba. As a result, the sanctions are mild, if you will. Which has not stopped Maduro from using the sovereign speech to rally around a common cause among his own against the Yankee aggression, a formulaic approach supported by some governments of the region.
In the same vein, a fight with Washington is very convenient for Maduro because it distracts Venezuelans, if that is even possible, considering the severity of their domestic problems. But this does not mean that products and medicine will appear on the shelves or that justice will stop rigging itself. Likewise, the world must not be distracted from the fact that electoral authority owes the country the date of the legislative, an announcement that can't keep being postponed with the mirage of a lack of guarantees, for never before has democracy been in such a risk as in the Venezuela of Maduro.