January 5, 2018 | Policy Brief

U.S. Sanctions Four More Venezuelan Military Officials

January 5, 2018 | Policy Brief

U.S. Sanctions Four More Venezuelan Military Officials

Today, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions on four current or former Venezuelan generals for their involvement in corruption and acts of political repression. These designations are part of an ongoing campaign against the human rights abuses and systematic corruption of President Nicolas Maduro’s faltering regime. The targeting of senior officers indicates an effective direction for U.S. policy: go after the military, Maduro’s strongest support base.

Rodolfo Clemente Marco Torres, the Venezuelan minister of food, is an original member of Venezuela’s ruling socialist party. He participated in the failed 1992 coup that launched former President Hugo Chavez’s political rise. After being jailed alongside Chavez, he rose to become a general and then president of the Bank of Venezuela before assuming his current position. 

Military officers with links to Marco Torres and his ministry diverted food imports and resold them at exponentially higher prices. The profits from these illegally trafficked food contracts were allegedly laundered through the U.S. financial system. Meanwhile, the cost of basic groceries skyrocketed to about five times the minimum wage by the mid-2017. According to some reports, 93 percent of Venezuelans cannot afford to buy food. 

Two of the other recently sanctioned individuals, Francisco Jose Rangel Gomez and Gerardo Jose Izquierdo Torres, both Maduro appointees, have also been linked to extensive corruption schemes, according to the Treasury announcement. Rangel Gomez, a retired general and former Governor of Bolivar State, “strengthened armed gangs” operating within his territory and pressured local courts to release members of these gangs upon their arrests. 

Similarly, according to the Treasury designation, Izquierdo Torres, an army general, used his position as the State Minister for the New Border of Peace and the Executive Secretary of the Presidential Border Commission to amass untold profits from corruption schemes at the expense of Venezuelan citizens. 

The fourth sanctioned individual, Fabio Enrique Zavarse Pabon, is a general in the Bolivarian National Guard and is responsible for Guard members’ acts of repression against street protestors. These protests, ignited by the pro-Maduro Supreme Court dissolving the opposition-led National Assembly in January 2017, led to the deaths of 136 people and the arrest of thousands. 

The crimes committed by these four men resemble those of countless other senior leaders, including Maduro himself, whom the U.S. sanctioned last July. The regime also has extensive connections to drug trafficking and supporting terrorists. The crimes of these officials are not news to American policymakers. An extensive Associated Press investigation reported that U.S. prosecutors have launched corruption investigations against senior Venezuelan officials, although no charges have been filed. 

The U.S. should continue to support, strengthen, and add to its comprehensive sanctions regime by targeting corrupt activity in the government. Prosecution in U.S. and foreign courts should begin to hold Venezuelan leaders accountable for their crimes. Additionally, the U.S. and regional allies should urge Venezuela to remove obstacles to humanitarian relief efforts by foreign organizations and governments. This approach can ensure that the ruling elite exploiting Venezuela for personal gain face a measure of accountability while the civilians suffering at the hands of this despotic regime are given access to the food and medicine they desperately need.


Michaela Frai is a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where she focuses on Latin America. Follow her on Twitter @MichaelaFrai.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD.