The Trump administration imposed sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami on Monday, calling him a drug "kingpin" in its first move against the South American country.
According to a Treasury Department statement, El Aissami, who was appointed vice president on Jan. 4, has been sanctioned for “playing a significant role in international narcotics trafficking.” As a result, the 42-year-old Venezuelan politician has been blacklisted from dealing with Americans and his assets in the U.S., including five companies he owns in Miami, have been frozen. He has also been barred from entering the country.
While this isn't the first time Washington has imposed sanctions against President Nicolás Maduro’s government, El Aissami is the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to be sanctioned and the only one to be accused of a drug trafficker.
“This can be seen as the opening salvo of the Trump administration in dealing with Latin America’s deepest crisis,” said Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington. “It is hard to imagine that, with this decision, Washington will now be inclined to offer many carrots to the increasingly authoritarian regime.”
The sanction follows a Feb. 8 letter, where 34 members of the U.S. congress, including Republicans and some Democrats, urged the new president to “take immediate action to sanction regime officials.”
According to the Treasury Department, El Aissami, who is of Syrian-Lebanese descent, “facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, as well as control of drug routes through the ports in Venezuela."
They believe that he also “oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of over 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with the final destinations of Mexico and the United States.”
The department said that El Aissami also protected drug traffickers, including Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled García and Colombian kingpin Daniel Barrera Barrera.
Samark López Bello, a Venezuelan businessman who allegedly assisted the vice president, faces similar sanctions.