The US imposed sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials, and President Nicolas Maduro couldn't be happier

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, it’s The World. President Obama has slapped new sanctions against seven top security officials in Venezuela. The seven men are now banned from traveling here to the States, and any assets they might have in the US will be frozen. The Obama Administration says these officials committed human rights abuses while cracking down on the opposition. But in Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro is using the sanctions to his advantage. Hannah Dreier is in Caracas, covering the story for the Associated Press.


Hannah Dreier: The Venezuelan government is making a meal out of these sanctions. President Nicolás Maduro rails against the US almost every day on national television, he likes to lead chants of “Gringo, go home!” These sanctions, while they might have consequences in the long term, have basically been a gift to him rhetorically. Last night, he personally congratulated all seven of the people who were sanctioned and called them heroes; he actually promoted one of them.


Werman: I hear some officials there are taking the travel ban as a kind of badge of honor. So, some believe that Maduro is attempting to use these sanctions as a way from him to consolidate even more power in the congress there. Is this a good thing for him?


Dreier: That remains to be seen. There hasn’t been a lot of good news for Maduro anywhere. The economy here is tanking, crime is increasing. It’s now the second-most dangerous country in the world, the shelves are going bare. So, I’m sure he’s taking whatever he can get. He is going to ask for these expanded powers and it’s very likely that he’ll get them because the Socialist Party controls congress here. It’s not clear what he’ll use the powers for. Some people are worried he would use them to postpone an election, which his party is expected to lose if that happens later this year.


Werman: The source of the protests in Venezuela is economy, right? Somewhere in the back of his mind, President Nicolás Maduro must know that. What is he doing on the economic front and is it enough?


Dreier: When the government can’t put products on the shelves, they do things like implement fingerprint scanners, which they’re rolling out this week in state-run supermarkets. They’ve banned people from lining up at night; they arrested an opposition leader who is giving coffee to people who are waiting in line. The economic situation isn’t expected to get any better, it’s expected to get worse and worse. Instead what we have is a lot of rhetoric, a lot of marches against imperialism and these sanctions definitely feed right into that.


Werman: So the protesters and everyday Venezuelans, what do they think about these sanctions on these seven officials?


Dreier: Normal people here seem a bit more stunned. It’s probably fair to say that Venezuela and US relations are at their lowest ebb right now, and keep in mind that the US endorsed a brief coup against this government. One thing here that people are talking about is Disneyworld. Venezuelans love to go to Disneyworld in Florida, it’s long been a birth right of the middle class and upper middle classes here, and they’re worried that deteriorating relations might throw a wrench into those vacation plans.


Werman: Wow, are there direct flights from Caracas to Orlando?


Dreier: There might be. There aren’t a lot of direct flights, but the ones that are still leaving do take you to Florida.


Werman: That was AP reporter Hannah Dreier speaking with me from Caracas.