Officials associated with the political party in power act to ban the opposition’s leading candidate from even competing on the ballot. 

Not to fear, the Biden administration—and before that, the Trump administration—stepped up to sanction other nations that did that.

The Colorado Supreme Court’s controversial ruling Tuesday disqualifying former President Donald Trump from the state’s ballot invited comparisons to other countries sanctioned by the United States for barring opposition candidates from their ballots. 

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., posted Tuesday evening on X: “The U.S. has put sanctions on other countries for doing exactly what the Colorado Supreme Court has done today.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in a similar post, wrote: “We’d threaten sanctions against countries that had their courts exclude a challenger to protect the incumbent.”

In a post Wednesday on X, Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., wrote

“The ruling from Colorado is fundamentally undemocratic and the type of action we’d condemn or even sanction another country for doing. Americans should have the right to vote for whoever they choose.”

The congressional lawmakers’ remarks are accurate. The United States has sanctioned several countries, including Venezuela, Belarus, and Nicaragua, for kicking opposition candidates or opposition parties off the ballot. 

Similar to the Colorado case leading to Trump’s disqualification, these foreign governments cited laws to rationalize their actions. However, most did not adjudicate the matter through court proceedings. 

The Colorado Supreme Court decided 4-3 to disqualify Trump from the state ballot, based on the legal argument that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents the former president from holding federal office because the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, constituted an “insurrection.” 

Although the House then impeached Trump for incitement to insurrection, the Senate acquitted him in a trial. 

Earlier this year, special counsel Jack Smith secured a grand jury indictment charging Trump with conspiracy for challenging the outcome of the 2020 election, but didn’t charge him with insurrection. 

Colorado’s highest court relied on the official report of the Democrat-dominated House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack on the Capitol, which did accuse Trump of insurrection. 

U.S. sanctions on other nations generally include freezing or restricting U.S.-held assets and property of foreign individuals or entities. 

Here are some recent examples of countries that the United States announced sanctions against for barring opposition candidates from elections.

1. Venezuela

In October, the Biden administration announced some sanctions relief for Venezuela, a reversal of intense sanctions by the Trump administration regarding violations of human rights, including the right to free and fair elections. 

The Treasury Department suspended some sanctions, but left others in place in response to the Maduro regime’s signing onto and “electoral roadmap agreement” with Venezuela’s Unitary Platform, the opposition party. 

The United States and some allies don’t recognize Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime as the legitimate government. Key to the sanctions relief from the Biden administration is dropping the suspension of ballot access for opposition candidates.

In a public statement Oct. 18, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said

The United States has also conveyed our expectation and understanding that Venezuela will take the following steps before the end of November:  

  1. Define a specific timeline and process for the expedited reinstatement of all candidates. All who want to run for president should be allowed the opportunity, and are entitled to a level electoral playing field, to freedom of movement, and to assurances for their physical safety.
  2. Begin the release of all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals and Venezuelan political prisoners.

Failure to abide by the terms of this arrangement will lead the United States to reverse steps we have taken. 

The Treasury Department issued licenses authorizing transactions involving Venezuela’s oil and gas sector and its gold sector, and removed a ban on secondary trading, Brian E. Nelson, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a public statement. 

“Treasury is prepared to amend or revoke authorizations at any time, should representatives of Maduro fail to follow through on their commitments,” Nelson said. “All other restrictions imposed by the United States on Venezuela remain in place, and we will continue to hold bad actors accountable. We stand with the Venezuelan people and support Venezuelan democracy.”

Still, Maduro’s regime reportedly intends to ban Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado from running for president next year. The ban would follow the signing of  an “electoral road-map agreement.” 

“Last month Maria Corina Machado, a former right-wing legislator, won the opposition’s presidential primary,” NPR reported in November. “However, with polls predicting she would crush President Maduro in a free election, the regime has banned her from running. That will likely force the opposition to nominate an alternative candidate, says Phil Gunson, who’s based in Caracas for the International Crisis Group.”

2. Belarus

In late 2020, the Trump administration’s Treasury Department imposed numerous sanctions against entities and individuals with ties to the government of Belarus for their roles in an August 2020 presidential election that the U.S. determined was fraudulent and included violent crackdowns on opposition parties. 

The Treasury Department concluded that the August 2020 election in Belarus “included a myriad of election irregularities, including barring opposition candidates, denying access to poll observers, and falsifying voting results, robbing the Belarusian people of their right to choose their leaders through free and fair elections.”  

The government of Belarus is aligned with Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime.

Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted an agency called the Central Commission of the Republic of Belarus on Elections and Holding Republican Referenda, also known as the Belarusian CEC. 

The agency was led by Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshina, Deputy Chairperson Vadzim Ipatau, and Secretary Alena Dmukhayla, who all three helped managed the election. 

“The election [in Belarus] included a myriad of irregularities that made it neither free nor fair, including barring opposition candidates, denying access to poll observers, and certifying inaccurate vote tallies,” the Treasury Department announced in a press release. 

“The Belarusian CEC is being designated pursuant to [Executive Order] 13405 for being responsible for, or having participated in, actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Belarus,” the press release continued. 

In June 2021, the sixth month of the Biden administration, Treasury announced that Canada, Britain, and the European Union joined to apply similar sanctions on those tied to corruption in Belarus. 

This announcement included condemning Belarus for “prevention of multiple opposition candidates from appearing on the ballot and restrictions on the ability of the opposition to campaign.”

“Andrei Ivanovich Shved … was named Belarus’ prosecutor general one month after the August 9, 2020, fraudulent presidential election,” Treasury’s press release continued. “In that position, he has filed politically motivated terrorism charges and extradition requests against presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and publicly defended his office’s prosecution of peaceful protesters.”

 3. Nicaragua

In November 2021, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed economic sanctions on the Public Ministry of Nicaragua and nine government officials in relation to what the U.S. government said it considered “sham” elections. 

The election results that year retained the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Biden’s Treasury Department criticized Ortega’s “imprisonment of nearly 40 opposition figures since May,” and said “the blocking of political parties from participation rigged the outcome well before election day.”

“Relying on Nicaraguan law, including Law 1055, the Public Ministry has unjustly arrested and investigated presidential candidates and prevented them from running for office, thereby undermining democracy in Nicaragua,” the Treasury Department announced at the time.

The country’s Law 1055 prohibits from public office anyone the government designates as “traitors,” or those advocating “foreign interference” in Nicaragua’s sovereignty, according to the Treasury Department.

“In June 2021, the Public Ministry used Law 1055 and requested that leading opposition presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro, whom it was investigating on groundless charges relating to ‘the crimes of laundering, forgery of official documents, and abusive management,’ be disqualified from the electoral process,” Treasury said in the announcement. 

“The Public Ministry also initiated investigations or filed charges against leading presidential candidates Arturo Cruz [Sequeira], Felix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, and Miguel Mora, all of whom were detained since June of this year in the run-up to the sham November elections,” the announcement continued.  

4. Congo

Congo is perhaps not the strongest comparison, as a much more crass method allegedly was used to knock opposition candidates off the ballot. 

In September 2016, during the Obama administration, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on government officials from Congo. 

The sanctioned officials included Gen. John Numbi, former national inspector for the Congolese National Police. 

“During the March 2016 gubernatorial elections in the DRC’s [Democratic Republic of Congo’s] four ex-Katangan provinces, Numbi used violent intimidation to secure victories for candidates affiliated with President [Joseph] Kabila’s MP coalition,” the Treasury Department’s announcement of sanctions said at the time.   

“Numbi threatened to kill opposition candidates who did not voluntarily withdraw from the race, and on the same day these exchanges purportedly took place, three candidates withdrew,” Treasury’s announcement said. “Numbi also reportedly gave provincial deputies a unique numeric code to write on each of their ballots so he could verify their votes after the election.  Though he is no longer a DRC government official, Numbi is reportedly an influential adviser to President Kabila.”

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