European Union foreign ministers approved economic sanctions including an arms embargo on Venezuela Monday, blaming regional elections last month for deepening the South American country’s crisis.
Anxious not to push Caracas any closer to economic and political collapse, EU governments held back from targeting any individuals, instead leaving names for a later stage to try to persuade President Nicholas Maduro to calm the situation.
“Everything we do it aimed at seeking dialogue between the government and the opposition to find a democratic and peaceful solution,” Spain’s Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis told reporters at a meeting with his counterparts where the sanctions decision was taken.
Spain has long pushed for sanctions on those close to Maduro, whom Washington accuses of installing a dictatorship, but the EU has been divided over whom to target.
In a joint statement, all 28 EU ministers said the legal basis for individual travel bans to the Europe Union and the freezing of any assets in the bloc “will be used in a gradual and flexible manner and can be expanded.”
In the statement, ministers said Venezuela’s Oct. 15 regional elections were a turning point that had hardened the bloc’s position and saying they took place amid “reported numerous irregularities”.
The results appeared to favor Maduro’s ruling Socialists last month, while polls had suggested the opposition would easily win a majority. In the end it won only a handful of governorships, according to the pro-government electoral board.
EU ministers will decide whom to target with sanctions at a later stage, but said they would focus on security forces and government ministers and institutions accused of human rights violations and “the non-respect of democratic principles or the rule of law.”