Sunday, August 6, 2017

Update: Increased Sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea


           The United States Congress nearly unanimously approved increased targeted economic sanctions for human rights violations on Iran, Russia and North Korea and limited the President’s discretion to lift sanctions on the Russian Federation and its leaders.  The President, whose opposition to the measure caused it to be delayed for weeks by the House of Representatives, signed it last week to avoid the humiliation of a veto override.

            The sanctions on the authoritarian Russian regime, which is led by an ex-Soviet spy, punish it for human rights violations and its aggression in Ukraine, but were widely perceived as punishment for the multi-pronged Russian interference in the American presidential elections to the benefit of the winning candidate, Donald Trump.  In addition to overt propaganda from Russian state-owned media, there was covert propaganda and disinformation, and even hacking and leaking.  Trump has denied the interference or Russian culpability and totally dismissed its effectiveness.  The Republican-led Congress, based on the unanimous conclusions of the American intelligence agencies and ongoing congressional investigations into Russian interference in the election, rejected his dismissals and sought the sanctions as a way to deter Russia from future interference, as well as to demonstrate their independence from a president from the same political party as the majority.  Trump and his campaign are under federal criminal investigation for conspiring with the Russians in the election, as well as for his business relationship, including possible criminal activities, with Russia, which may have compromised him and thus made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. 

Russia had already retaliated for the sanctions bill before it was signed by expelling several hundred American diplomats, which is most of the U.S. diplomatic corps in the Russian Federation.  The lack of sufficient diplomatic staff will make it difficult to represent the interests of Americans in Russia, as well as for Russians to obtain visas.  The U.S. had expelled nearly three dozen Russian diplomats and closed two Russian spy compounds in early December, after the general election for Electors, but before the Electoral College elected Trump.   

In addition to the U.S. sanctions on North Korea, the United Nations Security Council approved another round of targeted economic sanctions against nuclear-armed North Korea because of the Communist “Hermit Kingdom’s” test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching much of the American homeland.  The North Koreans have continued to develop their nuclear weapons program to bully the U.S., South Korea and the international community into acquiescing to its political demands and as a way for the cash-starved regime to earn money through weapons proliferation to other rogue regimes, like Iran.  Continued deterrence, interdiction and sanctions are necessary to contain the Communist North Korean regime.

Update: Venezuela Elects a New Assembly and Becomes a Full Dictatorship


           The authoritarian Socialist-led Venezuelan regime held the elections a week ago for a new assembly, a third of which are members appointed by the government among constituencies of the ruling party, as a first step toward the establishment of a full dictatorship.  The assembly replaces the current democratically-elected Congress, the large majority of which are members of the opposition. 

Because Venezuela’s ruling Socialists do not tolerate freedoms and fully permit free and fair elections, the opposition boycotted the vote.  The turnout was well less than 50% of the electorate.  Over one hundred Venezuelans have been killed in protests over the last few weeks.

The new Venezuelan assembly, whose members will be entirely from the ruling party, will be empowered to write a new constitution that would grant even more dictatorial powers to the authoritarian president.  Without a timeline for the adoption of the constitution, elections scheduled for next year, which the Socialists were expected to lose, would be delayed indefinitely. 

Opposition leaders were arrested after the vote and the Venezuelan attorney general removed from office.  The ruling Socialists had thwarted effective lawmaking by the Congress, including any liberalization and even the release of political prisoners.  

In addition to the opposition, the Catholic Church, Latin American leaders and international organizations, others members of the international community and human rights organizations have condemned the Venezuelan Socialist regime’s abandonment of representative government and imposition of tyranny.  The new assembly will lack international recognition, except from a handful of allies among rogue states, like Communist Cuba.  The United States, which had already imposed increased sanctions on Venezuela, and others in the international community, must consider swiftly implementing effective measures to prevent the total loss of liberty in the once-free, representative, peaceful and prosperous South American state.