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Local Venezuelans cautiously optimistic about U.S. embargo against Maduro

Local Venezuelans and Cuban supporters unite to protest against President Maduro and the government’s Cuban influenced regime in 2017. [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
Published Aug. 8

TAMPA — Members of Casa Venezuela Tampa Bay and La Casa Cuba de Tampa celebrated the news this week of the United States' economic embargo against the government of Venezuela led by President Nicolas Maduro.

The move is the latest effort by the Trump administration to push Maduro's regime out of power after the U.S. recognized Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate leader back in January. While some call into question the embargo's effectiveness, others see it as a hopeful next step.

For Norma Camero-Reno, president of Casa Venezuela Tampa Bay, the embargo could improve on existing U.S. sanctions that Maduro's administration has been able to undermine through alliances with countries like Russia, China and Cuba.

"Venezuela has a failed government," Camero-Reno said.

An estimated 4 million Venezuelans have left their country as hyperinflation, food and medical supply shortages, drug trafficking and political violence continue to ravage the nation.

Many have arrived in Tampa, where they seek political asylum and assistance in navigating a new country, said Edgar Guzman, a local attorney often fielding Venezuelans' questions over leasing documents and other commercial contracts.

Most of Guzman's family remains in Venezuela, where a Pepsi bottle and a comb are considered grand birthday gifts for his niece, whose parents must live on about $30 a month.

"The situation on a daily basis is getting worse," Guzman said.

While he acknowledges the embargo as yet another non-violent effort to oust Maduro, Guzman and others worry it could unintentionally complicate an already murky pathway for humanitarian aid in the region.

Human rights' nonprofits both in Venezuela and elsewhere noted in a joint statement this week that legitimate private companies seeking to import needed resources to civilians may be discouraged from doing so under the new regulations.

While Trump's executive order calling for the embargo provides exemptions for humanitarian aid imports, the groups noted that "similar exemptions included in previous rounds of U.S. sanctions have failed to prevent the negative consequences of over-compliance."

Foreign policy experts, including Harold Trinkunas at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, say the embargo is unlikely to make much of a difference. Serious sanctions have been in place in January and Maduro has far too much to lose by stepping down, Trinkunas said.

While Trump has walked back the idea of military intervention, Trinkunas noted there aren't many options on the table beyond the embargo.

"This is the last non-military tool left in the toolbox," he added.

Camero-Reno and members of Casa Venezuela Tampa Bay welcome military intervention through an international coalition should the embargo become unenforceable, as with the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Their allies in the local Casa Cuba urge the U.S. government to seize Maduro's assets and take other measures to ensure the embargo fulfills its goal, said Rafael Pizano, a spokesman.

The two groups have worked closely in the last few years as the Cuban government and Maduro's administration have also grown closer politically.

"We both suffer under the same regime," Pizano said.

As news of the embargo spreads internationally, Maduro and Guaido continue talking in Barbados.

Contact Ileana Najarro at inajarro@tampabay.com. Follow @IleanaNajarro.

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