Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro staged an elaborate ceremony Wednesday to applaud the thirteen socialist officials named in the latest round of U.S. Treasury sanctions against the regime, intended to punish the government for its gratuitous human rights abuses against unarmed protesters.
The officials in question received a replica of a sword allegedly used by Venezuelan founding father Simón Bolívar during the 1814 battle of Carabobo and each delivered some words in support of Maduro and an upcoming vote to elect a parallel legislature tasked with drafting a new constitution.
The government is staging a vote Sunday to choose the members of the “National Constituent’s Assembly.” The government has allowed exclusively socialist candidates to appear on the ballot, including prominent chavistas like former foreign minister Delcy Rodríguez and First Lady Cilia Flores. The opposition is urging Venezuelans not to participate in the vote to prevent the government from creating the legislative body, which Maduro has no constitutional power to do.
The opposition fears that a new constitution drafted by, among others, the dictator’s wife would codify Maduro’s authoritarian regime and cement him in power indefinitely.
During the event Wednesday evening, Maduro denounced the sanctions as “the greatest display of the failure of imperialism and their cronies here” and “a victory for the Venezuelan state.” To the United States, he said, “Respect Venezuela, damn it!”
Maduro also claimed the nation would not “recognize any sanctions,” but did not elaborate on whether this statement means that sanctioned individuals would continue to attempt to use American banks, vacation in lavish American resorts, or keep their assets in the U.S. economy, a far safer bet than maintaining patriotic fealty to the Venezuelan bolívar.
“Congratulations on these imperialist sanctions—illegal, insolent pretension of a country to sanction another country,” Maduro told his sanctioned socialist henchmen. “What do these American imperialists think, that they are a world government? Can we Venezuelans accept that the United States wants to be the government of the world? We do not accept and repudiate this,” he told the audience.
Among those targeted in the new round of sanctions is Tibisay Lucena, the head of the National Electoral Commission (CNE), who is in charge of organizing and executing the July 30 Constituents’ Assembly vote. Lucena oversaw the CNE during the last two presidential elections, ensuring a Maduro victory. Upon receiving her sword, Lucena claimed not to have any assets in the United States and told the crowd, “I welcome those and any other sanctions that come my way.”
Also on the list was the nation’s public ombudsman Tarek William Saab, whose job it would be to bring National Guard soldiers to justice for killing unarmed protesters. Saab, whose son has become a fixture at opposition protests, blamed the sanctions on “a history of anti-imperialist struggle” upon accepting his award.
While Maduro openly welcomed more sanctions during the event, insisting he would ignore them, reports suggest that the Venezuelan socialist regime has panicked over the potential of expanded oil sanctions, which would prevent the nation’s government elites from maintaining their wealthy lifestyle. A report in the Miami Herald Wednesday claimed that Maduro sent former socialist Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to negotiate with opposition leader—and descendant of Simón Bolívar—Leopoldo López in the hopes of getting the opposition to “cool down” protests and oppose American sanctions. By all accounts, the opposition refused.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly warned that Venezuela could come under more sanctions should its government continue to use state violence against peaceful dissidents and refuse to free political prisoners, including López. “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles. If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions,” Trump said in a statement this month, echoing statements during a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in May.
“People don’t have enough to eat,” he said then. “People have no food. There’s great violence. And we will do whatever is necessary, and we’ll work together to do whatever is necessary to help with fixing that, and I’m really talking on a humanitarian level.”