New York’s Attorney General is demanding a temporary restraining order against the Trump administration’s third travel ban, it was announced today. But while A.G. Eric T. Schneiderman claims Trump’s new limitations on travel from North Korea and Venezuela are “a Muslim Ban by another name,” some in the Venezuelan community are just fine with it. Unlike the restrictions on seven other countries, the restrictions on Venezuela target select government officials rather than citizens in general. Some emigres see this as justice served.
Trump’s ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries sparked criticism and widespread protest in January. Last week the ban was updated to include two non-Muslim countries: North Korea and Venezuela.
The targeting of specific political officials and their families is a pointedly political slap on the wrist for the Venezuelan government, deemed a dictatorship by the U.S. Many in New York’s Venezuelan community were eager to see officials punished. “Of course they deserve it,” said Brooklyn-based Venezuelan expat Vanessa Maldonado. “They are corrupt, they are human rights abusers, they are drug traffickers.”
The ban comes at a time when thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing to the U.S. and other countries due to economic collapse and political unrest. Human rights organizations, the UN, the O.A.S. and the U.S. have accused the Venezuelan government of authoritarianism, corruption, narcotics trafficking and crimes against humanity. The South American country was once cushioned by the second largest oil reserves in the world, but a sharp drop in oil prices have left it with triple figure inflation rates and shortages of food and medicine.
The Venezuelan government called the ban “political and psychological terrorism” and incompatible with international law.
Amidst this crisis, Venezuela’s politics remain extremely polarized. Those who’ve left place the country’s downward spiral squarely on the shoulders of the government run by Nicolás Maduro, who took power after the death of socialist icon Hugo Chávez.
“They live in luxury in front of people in the garbage looking for food,” said expat Esteban Cordero. “I don’t think the U.S. is being unfair, the ban is for the officials, not the people.”
Cordero’s father is undergoing kidney dialysis for prostate cancer. His sister sources the medicine through the black market, if she can get it at all. “It seemed good when it first started,” said Cordero, referring to socialism, introduced by Chavez 20 years ago. “But now it has fallen apart.”
The Attorney General of New York noted that the number of Venezuelan officials and North Koreans barred from traveling was so minimal that it ultimately left the ban as discriminating against Muslims.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the ban in court again last week, claimed the two countries were added as a decoy. The group stated that “President Trump’s original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list.”
“I disagree that it be grouped with the Muslim ban because one is discriminatory based on religion and one is foreign pressure,” said expat Andres Rabellino.
Rabellino said his father’s business exported raw materials from the U.S. to Venezuela; in 2009 it became unprofitable and was forced to close due to the volatile exchange rate. “It’s impossible to get a good exchange rate unless you’re connected to a government official,” he said. “The government officials have nice places in Miami, their kids go to school abroad, they keep their money abroad, while Venezuelans suffer.”
Venezuelan expat and political writer Andrés Miguel Rondón sees the ban as part of the international community’s moral responsibility to combat corruption. “These are people who should definitely be sanctioned, people who have stolen billions of dollars.” In 2016 the former finance minister Jorge Giordani accused the government of not being able to account for $300 billion. “How else can you explain an oil rich country that’s crumbling after the biggest oil boom in history?” said Rondón.
The travel ban is not the first action that the U.S. has taken. In August the government imposed economic sanctions after the Maduro-controlled Constituent Assembly held a referendum proposing to rewrite the constitution to nullify the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
In February the U.S. placed sanctions on Tareck El Aissami, the Executive Vice President of Venezuela, accusing him of involvement in narcotics trafficking. Last year, a New York court convicted the nephews of President Maduro’s wife of drug trafficking.
“These measures limit the capacity of the regime to emit debt and to find new life lines to staying in power,” said Eduardo Lugo, founder of SOS Venezuela, a group that raises awareness of the situation in Venezuela.
At a press conference in August, Trump said that a “military option” is not out of the question. At the UN general assembly in September, Venezuela’s foreign minister said that the country would defend itself by any means necessary. Both countries have said they are open to dialogue.
Venezuelans have repeatedly called on the international community to address the crisis but advise against military intervention. “Humanitarian aid is what Venezuelans need the most right now,” said Lugo. Human Rights Watch has noted that it “does not appear that the Venezuelan government has sought to obtain additional assistance that might be readily available.” The government has gone so far as to block an attempt by the then opposition-led National Assembly to seek international assistance.
“I’m not sure the ban was done for the right reasons,” said Rabellino. “But I think it sends the right message to the Venezuelan government.”