By Lucia Leal
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United States believes that in Venezuela there is a dictatorship, but it still considers the government of Nicolás Maduro legitimate and is not considering recognizing a possible parallel executive formed by the opposition, the man running point for the State Department on Venezuela, Michael J. Fitzpatrick, said Tuesday.
One day after the White House called Maduro "dictator" for the first time, one of the officials most involved in politics toward Venezuela reviewed the factors that, in his opinion, have gradually turned the Caribbean country into a dictatorial regime.
However, Fitzpatrick added that the United States is not considering recognizing the National Assembly (AN) as an alternative government body, even if that legislative body tried to establish itself as a parallel state apparatus.
"We do not necessarily recognize parallel or separate governments. We respect the official government of Venezuela and President Maduro at this time," said the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere.
The official recalled that the United States has "bilateral relations with almost every country in the world minus one pair," even if it disagrees with "its form of government."
"And in the case of Venezuela, we want to support the Venezuelan people (to) get out of this crisis," and "maintain diplomatic conversations" with the government, Fitzpatrick said.
There are "several factors" for which the White House has decided to describe Maduro's government as a dictatorship, according to Fitzpatrick, and the Constituent Assembly writing a new Magna Carta is just one of them.
"What we have seen during the last 18 months is a series of decisions and actions by the Venezuelan government (to) stifle democracy, close space for differences of opinion, and attack any organization or group of people who think differently," said Fitzpatrick.
Maduro's government has "attacked the political parties, the National Assembly, the Prosecutor's Office" and even "soldiers who have been detained precisely because they have had differences of opinion."
"This has to stop. One way or another, sooner or later, and it's going to end," he predicted.
Fitzpatrick warned that if Chavismo acts on its threats to remove Venezuela's attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, that would be "a step in the wrong direction."
"What we ask the government is that they calm the waters, that they seek a national consensus; not more arrests for differences of opinion and more political prisoners," said Fitzpatrick.
He also affirmed that "it is possible" that the White House will decide to increase sanctions against the Venezuelan government due to the arrest of Venezuelan opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, something that has left the State Department "very worried."
Fitzpatrick also recalled that "sectoral sanctions" affecting Venezuela's oil could still be imposed, noting that "before making that decision," Washington will ensure that it does not "harm the population" with its measures.Sanctioning Maduro
Fitzpatrick also defended the sanctions imposed on Maduro on Monday, which some have considered merely symbolic, since it is not clear that the Venezuelan president has assets in the United States.
"President Maduro is now a member of a very exclusive club -- few people in the world are sanctioned as leaders of their countries -- including the President of Zimbabwe, [Robert] Mugabe, President [Bashar al] Asad in Syria and the President Of North Korea [Kim Jong-Un]."
"It's a pretty exclusive club. It's a tough penalty," Fitzpatrick argued.
The diplomat clarified that although the ban also prohibits Maduro's entry to U.S. territory, the Venezuelan president will be able to land in New York without problems if he wishes to attend the United Nations General Assembly in September.
"Of course [he will be allowed entry]," he said.Sanctioning the Half-Billion Dollar Vice President
Fitzpatrick also confirmed that the United States has frozen "about $500 million" in assets
held in the U.S. by Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who the U.S. sanctioned in February for his ties to drug trafficking.
"There are apartments, there are mansions, there are cars, but more than anything, there is a lot of money in financial instruments.... And the question is, if he had this in the United States, what would he have in the Caribbean islands, or in Europe or elsewhere?" Fitzpatrick wondered.
After El Aissami was placed on the OFAC drug kingpin list, in addition to the penthouses listed by the Treasury department, an investigative journalist searching the social media of the wife of his front man or "testaferro" found a mansion and Bank of America found over $380 million in layer caked accounts belonging to the Venezuelan vice president, who has worked for the Chavez government most of his life.