The United States could impose sanctions on the second most powerful person in Venezuela, according to a diplomat at the US embassy in the country, a sign that the Trump administration will continue using such measures to pressure officials who support the regime of President Nicolás Maduro.
In an interview with Runrun.es, Todd Robinson, a senior diplomat at the US embassy in Caracas, explained that Diosdado Cabello, vice president of Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela – PSUV) and ex-president of parliament, has not yet been included on the list of sanctioned government officials because a rigorous investigation must first be conducted.
"But that doesn't mean we're not going to touch him ... We're working on that, but Mr. Cabello is on the Canadian and European Union lists. We're working as a team with our partners in the international community and will continue to do so," Robinson told Runrun.es.
The accusations against Cabello regarding his possible links with the drug trade and the Cartel of the Suns (Cartel de los Soles) -- an umbrella term for corruption and drug trafficking within Venezuela's military -- have grown stronger since 2015, when his former security chief linked him to drug trafficking when speaking to the authorities in the United States.
Rumors that Cabello could be added to the list soon have circulated before.
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite the accusations against him, Cabello has so far escaped US sanctions for human rights violations, drug trafficking or undermining democracy, unlike Vice President Tareck El Aissami and President Maduro.
Furthermore, Cabello may not be the second most powerful person in the Venezuelan government; it has been said multiple times that it is he who makes the decisions. He is a fundamental figure at the heart of the Maduro regime, and was one of former president Hugo Chávez's most loyal supporters. He has a long history in the military, and his position in national politics is a determining factor.
He is considered one of Chavismo's most fervent supporters. He controls the National Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional – SEBIN), which has been accused of committing innumerable human rights violations including torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions.
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For his part, Todd Robinson is a career diplomat coming from a previous post as US ambassador to Guatemala. He is currently in Caracas to help with the "return of democracy in Venezuela," and his work focuses on negotiation.
"I would say we cannot afford to disqualify any sector from negotiations for a better Venezuela. Clearly the military sector has a lot of influence on the future of the country, and if they can help, we're not going to say no," said Robinson in what was the first interview offered by a US diplomat in Venezuela since Maduro came to power in 2013.
But Robinson also trusts in the sanctions' effectiveness and is sure they "are working out very well."
This is why negotiations over a solution to the conflict in Venezuela -- in which Robinson, fresh off a decisive anti-corruption effort in Guatemala, seems to be an influential participant -- could be directly affected by the threat of possible sanctions against Cabello.