Donald Trump has found the ‘bad hombres’ he mentioned while debating Hillary Clinton last year. They just weren’t in Mexico.
They’re in Venezuela.
The US Treasury has placed sanctions on Venezuela’s new Vice President, Tareck El Aissami.
And on Wednesday, Trump tweeted “Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner & husband of @liliantintori (just met w/ @marcorubio) out of prison immediately.”
That was accompanied by a picture of himself meeting with Tintori, who has been carrying on her husband’s work, and Senator Rubio.
Lopez, a Harvard-educated former mayor, has been in prison since February of 2014. He was jailed for leading massive protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s brutal socialist regime.
Maduro’s reign has been a complete and utter humanitarian disaster. Venezuela is broken, suffering from food shortages and rolling blackouts. Stories of the nightmarish situation in hospitals across the country and desperate citizens resorting to vigilante justice to maintain order have been shocking the world for almost two years now.
The fact that Maduro — late-President Hugo Chavez’s chosen successor — chose El Aissami as his VP shows that he’s doubling down on his failed policies. El Aissami has been on the US’s radar for years. He is allegedly a part of Venezuela’s state drug-trafficking network and has ties to Iran, Syria, and Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah.
A former governor of Venezuela’s Aragua state, the Wall Street Journal once said of El Aissami: “One part master of Middle-Eastern networking, one part honorary Cuban revolutionary, and one part highly ambitious chavista, Mr. El Aissami is a dream come true for Tehran and Havana. That makes him a powerful man in Venezuela.”
According to Brazilian newspaper Veja, Venezuelan defectors say El Aissami participated in a clandestine program to provide Venezuelan passports to terrorists in Damascus when he served as Interior Minister. They also accuse him of accepting payment from Venezuelan drug kingpins trying to smuggle cocaine through country, according to the WSJ.
The head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Caballero, has also been accused of aiding and abetting drug traffickers.
Now, the Obama Administration was always careful about what it called Venezuela’s leaders. That’s because Maduro and his ilk would use negative statements as proof that the US is Venezuela’s enemy — an enemy of Chavez’s so-called “revolution.”
And so it was when the Trump administration put sanctions on El Aissami (from Reuters):
“We shall not be distracted by these miserable provocations,” said Tareck El Aissami, the most senior Venezuelan official yet sanctioned by the United States.
“We will see this vile aggression dispelled,” he added in a series of defiant tweets before appearing on state television looking unruffled as he presided over a government meeting…
“Comrade Tareck has my full support,” said Maduro, flanked by El Aissami in a live television address in which he attacked the United States.
It remains to be seen what, if anything, this new pressure on Maduro’s regime will do for Venezuela and its desperate people.
Or for Lopez.