Most 2020 Democrats Favor Trump’s Sanctions on Venezuela

The Council on Foreign Relations, the embodiment of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, asked the Democratic presidential candidates what they would do about Venezuela. The question was leading:

What, if any, additional steps should the United States take to remove Nicolas Maduro from power in Venezuela?

The formulation is leading because it implies that the candidate supports–or at least does not object to–the previous steps taken to remove Maduro. Still, the CFR survey is revealing. On Venezuela, the difference between most Democratic contenders and Trump is small, more a matter of style and rhetoric than substance.

On substance, the key issue is sanctions imposed by Trump. According to the Miami Herald:

[U.S.] financial sanctions rolled out in 2017 made it difficult for Venezuela to refinance loans and get fresh funding. Then, in January, Washington used “the nuclear option” and blocked money from Venezuela’s U.S. oil sales from going to Maduro’s coffers — effectively costing the country billions. Venezuela imports 80 to 90 percent of all its goods — including food and medicine — and asphyxiating PDVSA limits the country’s ability to bring in necessities.

Of the twelve candidate who answered CFR’s call, only three–Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Marianne Williamson–called for scaling back the sanctions imposed by Trump.

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders, geopolitician.

In his response, Sanders called for listening ” to the voices of Venezuelan activists themselves who warn against broad sanctions, such as the Trump administration’s oil sanctions, that mainly punish the people, not the government.”

Buttigieg declared that “broad economic sanctions, such as those pursued by the Trump administration, run the risk of hurting innocent Venezuelans already face crippling food and medicine shortages and enabling the Maduro regime to promote the false narrative that the U.S. is responsible for the country’s misery.

Williamson said Trump’s “increasingly damaging economic sanctions that have made the country’s economic crisis worse and generated higher levels of migration out of the country, creating enormous difficulties for neighboring countries.”

By contrast, former Vice President Joe Biden calls for more sanctions. John Delaney supports “our approach to sanctions.” Tim Ryan calls for “robust economic sanctions.” Cory Booker supports sanctions in place and doesn’t mention any exceptions. Seth Moulton supports sanctions. Kirsten Gillibrand supports sanctions. Joe Sestak favors “appropriate” financial and travel sanctions. Beto O’Rourke doesn’t use the word sanctions but supports “targeted measures.”

Among the candidates who didn’t respond, only Tulsi Gabbard is on record as opposing sanctions on Venezuela.

The Democratic candidates criticize Trump for rhetoric about “regime change” and/or military intervention but since Trump has signaled that, bluster aside, he has no intention of using military force, only a quarter of them actually oppose the central feature of Trump’s policy.

Joe Biden

The overriding goal in Venezuela must be to hold free and fair elections so that the Venezuelan people may recover their democracy and rebuild their country. Nicolas Maduro is a tyrant, who has stolen elections, abused his authority, allowed his cronies to enrich themselves, and denied the delivery of food and medicine to the people he claims to lead. I was among the first Democratic foreign policy voices to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and to call for Maduro to resign.
Maduro rigged the May 2018 election, and today his regime is barely holding on through violent oppression and by dismantling the last vestiges of Venezuelan democracy. Yet, the Trump Administration appears more interested in using the Venezuelan crisis to rally domestic political support than in seeking practical ways to effect democratic change in Venezuela.
The U.S. should push for stronger multilateral sanctions so that supporters of the regime cannot live, study, shop, or hide their assets in the United States, Europe, or Latin America. We should grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans already in the United States and support countries like Colombia, which are caring for millions of Venezuelans who have fled their country in desperation. I would also marshal the international community to help Venezuelans rebuild their country after Maduro is gone. Finally, the U.S. should use this pressure and promise to achieve a peaceful and negotiated outcome that leads to the release of all political prisoners and credible new elections. Maduro has used dialogue in the past as a tactic to delay action and concentrate power, so the U.S. should maintain sanctions pressure until negotiations produce results.

Cory Booker

Nicolas Maduro lacks the legitimacy to govern, and I have publicly stated that he should step down for the good of his people. However, we cannot simply anoint a new Venezuelan government — that would be repeating the mistakes of our dark history in the region. 
I support imposing sanctions on Maduro and his top officials for corruption and human rights violations committed against their own people. We should also engage closely with our partners in the region to pursue a diplomatic, negotiated settlement, including by working with a transitional government in Venezuela that can lead to peaceful elections and a return to democratic norms and stability.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg, mayor and former intel officer (Credit: Wikipedia)

Maduro is responsible for the humanitarian crisis that has seen more than four million Venezuelans flee their country. Endemic corruption, pervasive criminality among top officials, and systematic human rights abuses all reinforce the fact that the Maduro regime has lost the legitimacy to govern, and I stand behind Juan Guaidó as the rightful interim president. Our end state in Venezuela is a peaceful transfer of power to an interim constitutional government followed by free and fair elections. Because the refugee situation and Venezuela’s imploding economy are impacting the entire hemisphere, the U.S. government should respond in concert with our regional allies, who are shouldering the heavy burden of a large Venezuelan diaspora.  Together, we also need to address the Russian, Chinese and Cuban interference now complicating an effective transition.
In this vein, I support recent efforts to negotiate a settlement between the regime and Guaidó; such talks can be the best route to a managed transition.  I would also continue to apply targeted sanctions against regime officials — but broad economic sanctions, such as those pursued by the Trump administration, run the risk of hurting innocent Venezuelans already face crippling food and medicine shortages and enabling the Maduro regime to promote the false narrative that the U.S. is responsible for the country’s misery. I also would support extending Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans currently residing in the United States until the crisis is resolved.

John Delaney

It is up to the people of Venezuela to decide who will lead their government. I support the elevation of Juan Guaidó to president following the Venezuelan constitution and will continue to speak out in favor of his leadership. I would not, however, favor any direct intervention in Venezuelan power struggles by the United States, but do support our approach to sanctions. I would provide substantial humanitarian support via USAID and through our participation in multilateral agencies such as the OAS and InterAmerican Development Bank.

Kirsten Gillibrand

I want to see free and fair elections in Venezuela – monitored by international experts so that the will of the Venezuelan people is reflected in their government. But more than that, I want to see a fair judiciary, an open press, and other aspects of a truly thriving democracy. So I support the efforts of the international community to impose a combination of sanctions and humanitarian aid and diplomatic pressure on President Maduro, and to take steps to lessen the humanitarian disaster ordinary Venezuelans are suffering. Almost 4 million Venezuelan refugees have fled and we must provide humanitarian and refugee assistance.Venezuelans, like other asylum seekers who reach our shores, deserve our protection. But I do not support military intervention. We cannot allow Trump’s warmonger advisors get us into yet another war. It would not be good for the American people,Venezuelans or our other friends in the region.

Seth Moulton

The Trump administration’s approach to Venezuela is a throwback to the Cold War: intervene in support of a coup, blame Cuba for everything, and in the process, make America a foil for Maduro to use with his people as the reason his economy is faltering. 
Maduro is a dictator who is killing his own people, and he has lost the legitimacy to lead. But we have learned from experience that when the United States tries to dictate outcomes in other countries, we often end up provoking a backlash and uniting different factions against us as the outsider. Moving forward, we should continue to sanction Venezuelan leaders and encourage the opposition. But if my time in the Marines taught me anything, it’s that the United States is not the world’s policeman. Nor should we try to be.

Beto O’Rourke

Venezuela has collapsed. The illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro has plunged the Venezuelan people into a nightmare of chaos and deprivation; more than four million of whom have fled because they cannot survive at home. As President, I will take urgent action to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and work with regional allies to support a lasting solution to Venezuela’s political and economic collapse. 
First, I will reverse the Trump administration’s politicization of humanitarian aid, which has prevented support from reaching Venezuelans who need it most, particularly women and children. By supporting the efforts of neutral humanitarian agencies like the International Committee of the Red Cross to deliver life-saving food, medicine, and protection, we will ensure that aid reaches the most vulnerable. I will also immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans already in the United States, something President Trump has refused to do.
Second, to foster a democratic transition away from the Maduro regime to Juan Guaido, the legitimate president under the Venezuelan constitution, I will support efforts by opposition and regime officials to negotiate a political settlement, while using targeted measures like asset seizure and supporting criminal indictments to increase pressure on regime officials. To reverse Venezuela’s economic collapse, I will lead an international effort to provide financial assistance to stabilize the post-Maduro Venezuelan economy and enable the Venezuelan people to rebuild their lives.   

Tim Ryan

The United States, along with its allies, must use its diplomatic powers to pressure President Maduro to relinquish his power in Venezuela. We should continue to use robust economic sanctions against Maduro and his supporters to weaken his position. At the same time, we need to remain vigilant in our strong support to the Guaido Government. Additionally, we must work with international and regional partners to build a strong economic plan and protect the region from further fiscal depression. A multi-government, non-military, coalition is essential to building trust and compassion with the people of Venezuela, the US can lead the coalition but we must not operate independently. Lastly, I oppose any military action against Venezuela. In a region with a history of U.S. military incursions, the United States would be hard-pressed to gain allies if it took such unilateral steps.

Bernie Sanders

My administration would support the negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition, and work with other countries in our region, and the international community, to support the Venezuelan people’s right to build their own future. The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination in Venezuela, as we should elsewhere. We would condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent. We would also listen to the voices of Venezuelan activists themselves who warn against broad sanctions, such as the Trump administration’s oil sanctions, that mainly punish the people, not the government. My administration would not be in the business of regime change. The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries; we must not go down that road again.

Joe Sestak

The situation in Venezuela is tragic. President Maduro has led his nation’s economy to ruin and corruption, and created a disastrous humanitarian situation. We must convene the regional Organization of American States (OAS) — and other international organizations as appropriate — to compel changes in Venezuela that will bring about a political settlement that avoids a civil war while bringing about just governance.  This is not about military force at all. Rather, we must recognize that individual and human rights and a fair and just government, the values the liberal world order once stood for, can only flourish in Venezuela if the world comes together and provides the incentives and disincentives required to bring Venezuela back.. Disincentives should include appropriate financial sanctions against those in government who are looting their nation — often in conjunction with drug traffickers — and travel sanctions against the same. We must do our part to ensure that injustice does not prevail in Venezuela, and prevent a civil implosion that destabilizes the hemisphere.

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson

The US government – including under Obama – has wanted regime change in Venezuela since at least 2002 (year of the failed military coup against Chávez), and the efforts it’s undertaken to remove the leftwing governments of Chávez and now Maduro have consistently made things worse in Venezuela and have arguably harmed US regional interests. 
The US government has for years supported radical elements of the opposition, those that support destabilization campaigns and military coups, rather than more moderate factions that support electoral solutions, and in so doing have exacerbated the internal polarization in the country which has, in turn, contributed to the current political crisis. The Trump administration’s support for Guaidó, who – until recently was calling for a military coup against Maduro and refusing all dialogue – is an example of this counterproductive approach. 
Since 2017 the Trump administration has been trying to force Maduro out through increasingly damaging economic sanctions that have made the country’s economic crisis worse and generated higher levels of migration out of the country, creating enormous difficulties for neighboring countries. The end result has been more human suffering – including thousands of avoidable deaths – and, ironically, the consolidation of Maduro’s rule over the country, as the lower income chavista base has rallied in his defense against “imperial intervention.”
If the US really wants to see a peaceful political transition in Venezuela it needs to help create the conditions for effective dialogue, which means supporting moderate factions on both sides that seek a peaceful transition and supporting existing efforts to promote dialogue, in particular those being led at the moment – with some success – by the Norwegian government. 
The historical record shows that when the US government engages in aggressive intervention to remove a leader that it dislikes, its efforts generally backfire or lead to unforeseen political and social developments that are not easy to resolve. The best policy in Venezuela and most places is to support efforts that allow the country’s citizens to decide on their political future (even if it’s not exactly the sort of future that the US favors).

Andrew Yang

The United States must promote free and fair elections in Venezuela to determine their next leader. The most recent elections were obviously marred by fraud, intimidation, and voter suppression.
While Maduro’s actions of undermining democracy are inexcusable, we should not get embroiled in military action to remove him from power. The United States must push with our allies for Maduro to step down, through diplomacy, and through sanctions targeted at Maduro and his supporters. We must also work with Guaido, and with him consider amnesty for some of Maduro’s military support to entice them to support Guaido as President of the National Assembly and interim President.
We should continue to support the Venezuelan people with humanitarian aid, and also assist our regional allies in dealing with the crisis of the massive number of refugees. And we should signal that we will provide aid to Venezuela after a transition to a new and democratically elected government.

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