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NEW YORK (April 22, 2022) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) urges the democratic world and the United States, in particular, to maintain the pressure of targeted sanctions against the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela as he is being investigated for crimes against humanity and his dictatorship continues to usurp the state to use it as a transnational criminal enterprise.

The U.S. government must continue to find ways to make humanitarian aid and economic assistance reach the Venezuelan people, while strengthening targeted sanctions on Maduro’s dictatorship and its sources of financing. Maintaining pressure on the dictatorship’s thugs and chief cronies will show the solidarity of fellow democracies around the world with the Venezuelan people, and expose their oppressors as international pariahs until all prisoners of conscience are released, a new president is democratically elected, and redress for the millions of victims becomes a real possibility.

In a recent letter to the U.S. government, a group of 25 Venezuelan individuals asked for a resumption of negotiations with the dictatorship while advocating for the end of sanctions against it. As a human rights organization with a focus on helping persons suffering under authoritarian regimes around the world, HRF understands that targeted sanctions against a dictator, his cronies, and their key sources of financing are the only serious non-military tool with the ability to apply real pressure and establish that what they do is unacceptable and will not be normalized by the world’s democratic leaders.

HRF understands that, although targeted sanctions are not an end in themselves, as the world today bears witness to dictator Vladimir Putin’s expensive military invasion of Ukraine and ongoing atrocities against the Ukrainian people, the necessity and power of targeted sanctions against dictators and their key sources of financing becomes all the more apparent.

Sanctions must always be targeted against the dictatorship’s pillars of power and always avoid hurting innocent civilians not affiliated with the regime. However, lifting sanctions when a dictator has not meaningfully changed behavior is never a reasonable alternative because it signals that the cost to be paid for egregious human rights abuses will decrease over time even though the dictator remains ruthless and ruling with an iron grip.

“There is little indication that the Venezuelan regime will sit down to negotiate in good faith even if they are promised sanctions relief, as that would require them to be willing to release political prisoners and put an end to wholesale human rights abuses. The only reason Maduro continues to hang on to power in a devastated country is because he is willing to commit those crimes,” said HRF CEO, Thor Halvorssen. “Allowing companies from democratic countries to do business in Venezuela with the hopes it will rehabilitate its decrepit oil industry is as immoral as it is wishful thinking. Maduro is running the country as its own criminal enterprise, facing charges in the United States. Do the people asking for an end to sanctions on the country want these charges dropped? Even if this is feasible, the regime, by its very nature, has shown that it is an irresponsible business manager and partner, hardly a candidate to restore Venezuela’s oil industry,” added Halvorssen.

The Venezuelan regime is currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity that have occurred in the country since at least early 2017. Additionally, the U.S. Justice Department has issued arrest warrants against Nicolás Maduro and 14 other current and former members of his government for their involvement in narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking, and other criminal charges.

“The only thing that will be accomplished by abandoning any form of pressure on the regime at this critical moment is the normalization of a criminal organization that has taken a whole country hostage. It is shocking that this group of Venezuelans who claim to oppose Maduro are advocating for the very kind of relief the regime is hoping for. It is important to be aware that several of the signatories of the letter sent to representatives of the U.S. government have previously served as apologists for the regime, public relations agents for its corrupt oligarchs, and some have even benefited from the dictatorship largess,” added Halvorssen.

“There are no good alternatives when dealing with dictators like this. What the democratic world needs to do is to have a clear vision of what it hopes to accomplish with sanctions. We need to make sure autocrats pay a price for violating human rights. Abandoning this type of pressure will only lead to impunity,” concluded Halvorssen.

The Human Rights Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

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