The Venezuelan lawmakers had some practical and specific requests for the Obama administration, starting with the public release of the names and alleged offenses of top Venezuelan officials included on a confidential U.S. sanctions list. They’d also like help finding the $300 billion to $400 billion they estimate has been stashed in foreign bank accounts by the Chavista elite; the money is desperately needed to import food and stave off a foreign debt default.As part of the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson to be ambassador to Mexico, the Congress extended Venezuela sanctions for another three years. Ideally, the sanctions on Venezuela would have been judged on their own merits and not log-rolled in a broader foreign policy compromise, but it was a necessary deal in this case.
The public release of names could antagonize the Venezuelan government. I don't think it should be done in one statement, but rather on a case-by-case basis and with clear evidence of the abuses for which the individuals are being sanctioned. It's also important to highlight the individuals who are being sanctioned as a reminder that these sanctions are against individuals who have significantly abused human rights or committed large acts of corruption. The sanctions aren't against the whole country. Still, it's not as if the Venezuelan public does not know that its government is corrupt. It is unclear how effective any further naming of sanctioned individuals would be. In contrast, holding those names privately creates some potential leverage in behind the scenes negotiations.
Identifying money stolen via corruption should be done by the US, but it's not clear what happens when that money is identified. Does the US give that money back to the Maduro government so it can be stolen again? Hold it in an account until there is a more responsible government, which would really anger the Chavistas and appear cruel as the country suffers through food and energy shortages? Create our own parallel version of Cadivi to manage Venezuela's sovereign accounts for them? Give the money to the MUD leadership? Those last two options would have almost no legal basis, I just throw them out there to show how difficult the options are here.
It's easy to complain about the US or others not doing enough about Venezuela, but the options for what to do are not particularly simple. The bias towards action in foreign policy suggests that we should be doing something and that there is some action that can improve the situation. The truth is that while the US should be engaged and trying to improve the situation, there are few actionable policy options the US or the hemisphere can undertake to help Venezuela right now and some actions could be counter-productive. The future of the country is in the hands of the Venezuelans.