Not so fast Designating Venezuela a Sponsor of Terrorism, Mr. Trump!
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
While acting contrary to U.S. laws is nothing new for the Trump Administration, the latest report of President Trump’s intent to designate Venezuela ‘a State Sponsor of Terrorism’ is yet another example of irrational foreign policy action by this administration. It has drawn a strong rebuke from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who will take over as Chairman in January 2019. There is no rational reasoning in support of this proposed action by President Trump. There is no factual basis for concluding that Venezuela is a state sponsor of international terrorism. So far, the Trump Administration has not offered any proof.
Except for the Courts, with both the House and the Senate under the control of the Republicans during the first 21 months of the Trump presidency, there have been no checks and balances on the Trump Administration. This lack of accountability is about to end. With the Democrats soon to be in control of the House it will not be business as usual. There will be changes in how U.S. foreign policy is monitored and critiqued by the U.S. Congress. There will be accountability and actions and proposed actions by the Trump Administration will have to be explained and justified to the U.S. Congress. Importantly, the House of Representatives control all U.S. spending, including funding for carrying out foreign policy decisions of the President.
Congressman Engel has been a voice of reason during the Trump presidency. As he prepares to take control of the Committee in less than two months, Rep. Engel issued a directive to the U.S. State Department to provide proof to justify placing Venezuela on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List. Responding to reports that the President intends to follow this course of action against Venezuela, Rep. Engel issued a statement demanding that the President must provide evidence of Venezuela’s culpability. According to Engel, “If the President intends to do so, he must demonstrate that Caracas has ‘repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,’ as the law requires.”
Rep. Engel said he had seen no evidence Venezuela is a sponsor of international terrorism. On November 20, 2018, Rep. Engel asked the U.S. State Department “to provide the Foreign Affairs Committee with written evidence demonstrating that Venezuela meets the criteria in the statute.”
Accordingly, ‘countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act.’ As such, there are four main categories of sanctions which result from designation. These include: restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items (includes computers, off-road vehicles, certain chemicals, radiology diagnostic instruments, etc.); and financial and other restrictions.
Designation also includes other sanctions laws which punish persons (individuals and corporate entities) and countries which engage in trade with designated state sponsors. Third country waivers are possible but not guaranteed, and should not be taken for granted or expected under the Trump Administration. Should the Trump Administration follow through with the threat, Venezuela would join North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and Syria on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List.
President Trump cannot accuse Rep. Engel of being a Maduro apologist. That he is not. Congressman Engel has been a consistent critic of the Nicolás Maduro regime and has called for restoration of democracy, rule of law, and the protection of human rights in Venezuela. In his statement, on November 20, Rep. Engel said:
“Make no mistake: President Maduro is a cruel dictator who violates the human rights of the Venezuelan people on a daily basis. We must continue to hold him and his cronies accountable while also ensuring that President Trump does not continue his heartless deportation policy toward Venezuelans living in the United States. At the same time, the State Sponsor of Terrorism list must be used judiciously to maintain its seriousness and integrity, and countries added must meet the legal standard.”
As noted above, designation of Venezuela as a State Sponsor of Terrorism will trigger severe sanctions against the Maduro government. A designated state is prohibited from doing business with the United States as well as with U.S. citizens. Furthermore, designation is very disruptive of third countries relationships with Venezuela. Countries and persons which continue to do business with Venezuela will be subject to U.S. unilaterally imposed sanctions. Expectedly, third country bilateral relations with Venezuela will be under deep scrutiny by the Trump Administration which will seek to increase significantly isolation of Venezuela in the hemisphere and globally.
While the conduct of U.S. foreign policy is primarily the responsibility of the President, Congress has oversight responsibilities and the House of Representative controls appropriations and can impose restrictions on spending by the President. Under a Democratic Party control of the House there will be accountability. There will be efforts to reign in the President whose conduct of foreign policy has been characterized by chaos. As Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo may very well welcome some oversight by the Congress and a proactive House Foreign Affairs Committee. He would be relieved of trying on his own to constrain the President and limit his actions in global affairs.
For the first time in the almost two years of the Trump presidency, foreign leaders and the international community may be breathing a collective sigh of relief. There is a caveat, however. The chaos in U.S. foreign policy will not disappear overnight. Trump will not roll over and will resist any attempt to curb his power. If Rep. Engel’s record is predictive he will be up to the challenge. House control of the purse string weighs in the Congress’ favor.
As anticipated, with Rep. Eliot Engel as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the message to the Trump Administration is clear. It won’t be business as usual. In other words, not so fast Mr. Trump!
© 2018 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post