Maduro says he will sue the U.S.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro seeks U.S. court action to force White House to lift executive order declaring country a threat to U.S. security

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said Thursday he would sue the Obama administration in an attempt to lift an executive order signed earlier this year that declared the South American country an extraordinary threat to U.S. national security.

“We can’t have that decree around. It’s like the Sword of Damocles here,” Mr. Maduro said in a televised address, pointing to his neck. “We’re going to file a lawsuit in the U.S. against that decree.”

He said the suit would expose the “international illegality” of President Barack Obama’s March 9 order, which also slapped sanctions on seven Venezuelan government officials accused of committing rights abuses during a clampdown on protesters last year.

The U.S. State Department didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.

Mr. Maduro, who said he collected 11 million signatures during a campaign condemning the decree earlier this year, didn’t give further details. He made his comments hours after Mr. Obama’s nominee for undersecretary of state, Thomas Shannon, told lawmakers in Washington that crucial Dec. 6 elections in Venezuela would determine whether Washington will take further action against the country.

Polls suggest that President Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela could lose control of the parliament for the first time in 16 years as citizens punish incumbents for an economic crisis marked by triple-digit inflation and chronic food shortages.

Last week, Venezuela’s government also turned to the U.S. legal system to help ease its economic troubles. The country’s central bank filed a lawsuit seeking the shutdown of a U.S.-based website called DolarToday, which is allegedly run by Venezuelan exiles and publishes the black-market value of the country’s collapsing currency, the bolivar.

In the suit, Venezuela alleged the website was destabilizing its economy and damaging the government’s reputation.

Tensions between Venezuela and the U.S. have risen since Mr. Maduro’s administration put down a wave of nationwide protests in 2014 with the help of progovernment paramilitary groups and jailed political rivals.

Caracas recently raised the ante by forbidding all but one international observer from monitoring the December vote: an electoral mission from the Union of South American Nations. But Brazil, an ally that was supposed to lead that delegation, pulled out last week, citing difficulty in assessing the fairness of the electoral process.

“So much of our own relationship with Venezuela will depend on what happens around the legislative elections and what happens on the issue of political prisoners,” said Mr. Shannon. Earlier this year he held rare talks with Venezuelan officials, urging them to set a long-delayed election date and save the life of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López, who went on a nearly monthlong hunger strike to secure one.

“The ability of the elections to be perceived as free elections and the vote count valid is going to be a very important part of how we manage the next step in the relationship,” Mr. Shannon added in response to Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), who asked whether the efforts were enough.

“My concern is that we are not willing to challenge regimes whether it be in Venezuela or in Cuba,” said the senator. “When is the demarcation in which we say our diplomacy hasn’t worked at this point? How do we back it up with some strength?”

Mr. Maduro, much like his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chávez, routinely says Washington’s criticisms are part of an international conspiracy to topple the leftist government, which is one of the U.S.’s biggest critics in the region.

But the former bus driver and union activist said he felt vindicated on Wednesday when the members of the United Nations voted to reappoint Venezuela to its Human Rights Council, despite concerns over media censorship and the detention of political foes in the country.

“Why does the U.S. go against Venezuela, I ask? Because they know that Venezuela is going to go the international bodies to defend the truth and no one is going to threaten us, twist our arm or manipulate us,” Mr. Maduro said Thursday to applause from supporters clad in red, the color of his leftist party. “We showed them.”

The Wall Street Journal |By KEJAL VYAS

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