Venezuela's Sanctions

The United States originally established diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 1835, but their association has been strained in recent years. The South American country’s corrupt and failing government has sparked an economic collapse that has led to a humanitarian crisis.

The Venezuelan government’s policies and gross mismanagement of national affairs have caused the United States to impose over 40 sanctions on Venezuelan individuals since 2017. Millions of Venezuelans have become refugees due to food shortages, rising prices, increased crime, and a broken health system. The regime has killed protestors in rallies and imprisoned political opponents. Hyperinflation is projected to reach over one million percent by the end of 2018. This chaotic country has become an extremely challenging climate for the United States and multinational companies.

In May of 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro took office. In response to his election, US Vice President Mike Pence commented,“The illegitimate result of this fake process is a further blow to the proud democratic tradition of Venezuela. The United States will not sit idly by as Venezuela crumbles and the misery of their brave people continues.”

Shortly after the election, the Trump administration placed a new of set sanctions on the Venezuelan government. These new penalties aimed to prevent Maduro from selling off government debt to enrich himself. The executive order attempts to stop American companies from buying debt from the government of Venezuela, thus putting an end to corruption in a country near collapse.

Since then, President Trump has issued a new round of sanctions targeting Maduro’s inner circle. Venezuela’s First Lady, Vice President, Defense Minister, and other officials are being penalized for plundering the precarious country’s remaining wealth. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that this inner circle has helped Maduro’s regime maintain its grip on power. For example, the First Lady, Cilia Adela Flores De Maduro, is a political figure in her own right and has been accused of helping her husband’s administration illegally acquire wealth. She has previously served as National Assembly Deputy and President of Legislative Power in Venezuela.

In a passionate statement, the Venezuelan President stated that Flores’ only offense was being married to him and that sanctioning her is a cowardly act by the United States. Meanwhile, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez has been named a key figure in awarding Maduro near dictatorial powers.

The US Treasury Department has stated that the United States will continue to use every available economic and diplomatic strategy to stop the corrupt government and support the Venezuelan people’s efforts to restore their democracy. The sanctions are being used to put pressure on government officials to either step down or pursue Venezuela’s best interests. According to the Trump Administration, sanctions against certain individuals will be dropped if they restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, and combat corruption.

Julio Borges, former head of the Venezuelan National Assembly now exiled to Columbia said, “We’ve gone through all the democratic routes. Maduro has closed the doors and turned the country into worse than a dictatorship — a failed state.”

Iran Nuclear Deal

On May 8th of 2018, our President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum, essentially withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Although the president had been denouncing the deal, stating it is  “a direct national security threat,” and “fatally flawed” for more than a year before, experts were still shocked. The president had been planning this move for months now. But what was the Iran deal, and why did the president’s withdrawal draw such polarized reactions?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was an agreement reached by the P5 countries (France, U.K., U.S., Russia, China) in addition to Germany in 2015 after 20 months of compromises and negotiations. The deal lifted sanctions that had been crippling Iran’s economy for the last decade, in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. These restrictions included reducing low-enriched uranium stockpiles by 98%, a ⅔ reduction in the number of centrifuges(nuclear processing plants) Iran can use, and inspections by UN. However, the fact that the deal would slowly loosen, being almost invalidated after 15 years or so, was a huge point of contention amongst government critics. On one side, the deal was seen as one of Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements, but on the other, an open hand to a terrorist nation that went against every US policy. “This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” president Trump stated, reinstating previous sanctions against Iran after signing the memorandum. The move comes with indignation from the other members of the deal, especially European leaders. They cited that there was no evidence Iran was not complying with the deal. The inspection agency found no signs of failure to comply, and Iran seemed to be opening up about their nuclear program over the years. However, the president dodged this question by citing the Iranian regime as one of chaos, and the breaking of the deal as a symbol of US disagreement with Iran’s methods.

The validity of pulling out is debatable, but there is no doubt that Trump’s move puts world leaders and the deal in a difficult situation. Since the lifting of sanctions, many nearby nations had established business deals and relationships with the bigger economic powers in Iran. However, now that Trump has pulled us out of Iran Nuclear Deal, the reimposition of US sanctions on Iran can hinder the business with the European countries. Businesses now have to choose between Iran or the US, an obvious choice, but not one they’d necessarily like to make.

The withdrawal from the deal has created many other troubles. As of now, there is strong pressure in Iran for taking retaliatory actions, which may include bumping up uranium usage or even a withdrawal from the deal itself, but nothing has happened so far (the deal may still survive with the other members still pledging in). Looking ahead, this event could discourage countries to join such agreements with the US in the future, for lack of reliability. The pull out has damaged our credibility with important allies, such as France, Germany, UK, as well as with Iran.

Perplexingly, as soon as Trump pulled out of the Iran deal, he initiated one with North Korea. In addition, Trump has advocated a better Iran deal, but has laid out no diplomatic options. This begs the questions: What was Trump and his aides’ motives? Was this just an effort to undermine Obama’s achievements, as Trump has attempted before? Did Trump have a legitimate reason to pull out of the deal given his reasoning? What does this mean for nuclear situation in the middle east?