01 Nov 2019
Officials in the Trump administration are pushing for financial sanctions against Spain for what they say is its financial support of Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela, according to people familiar with the matter.
The U.S. Treasury Department is considering sanctions against Spain’s central bank and measures against other entities where Venezuelan money is parked, the people said, without offering details. They said no action is expected before Spain’s Nov. 10 general election.
Spain, where several thousand U.S. troops are based, has been a partner to Washington in the war on terror and other global endeavors. The prospect of targeting a historic ally rankles some in the U.S. administration who oppose the move and cast doubt on its likelihood. The people said that Spanish officials have been warned about the potential action.
That may be the point of the talk: to send a message and spur a shift in Spanish policy at a time when Caracas has to rely mostly on China and Russia to skirt U.S. sanctions. Or the deliberations may show how far the Trump administration is willing to go to topple Maduro. Spain’s central bank has remained an intermediary for Caracas as the sanctions led many financial institutions to shun deals with the socialist government.
Spanish officials said that during a recent hour-long meeting in Madrid with Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative for Venezuela, there was no mention of sanctions. Abrams did say that the government needs to do more about Venezuelan money coming into Spain and pushed Madrid to freeze Venezuelan assets. The Spaniards replied that private banks and the central bank are monitoring for money laundering but aren’t going to freeze assets without evidence.
Earlier, Abrams accused Spain of allowing members of the Maduro regime to shelter funds and family members.
Spain hasn’t received notification of any action by the U.S. government and doesn’t believe it would be justified, a spokesman for the foreign ministry in Madrid said. The Bank of Spain declined to comment; a U.S. Treasury spokesman declined to comment. The people who spoke anonymously did so because the discussions are confidential and ongoing.
One senior U.S. official pushing for the action said Madrid deserves as much blame for aiding and abetting the Maduro regime as Russia and China. Those in favor of the move argue that acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government is preventing the European Union from taking more punitive measures against Maduro. There’s also frustration over Madrid’s rejection of U.S. requests to extradite former Venezuelan spy Hugo Carvajal to stand trial on drug-trafficking charges as well as Spain’s place as a destination for Venezuelans who got wealthy by looting the nation’s state-run companies.
By Ben Bartenstein, Bloomberg, 31 October 2019
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