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US steps up Venezuela sanctions

March 1, 2019

The US has targeted six officials it says oversaw efforts to block humanitarian aid deliveries into Venezuela. Meanwhile, Venezuela's vice president got a warm Russian welcome in Moscow.

Venezuelan security forces block aid deliveries from Colombia in Cucuta
Image: Getty Images/AFP/R. Arboleda

The US sanctions target six Venezuelan government officials "aligned with illegitimate former President Nicolas Maduro," the US Treasury Department confirmed in a statement issued on Friday.

The six individuals are high-ranking security forces officials who led efforts to prevent humanitarian aid from entering Venezuela, it added.

The US also revoked the visas of dozens of Maduro's associates and their families, as part of ongoing pressure on Maduro to step down. Friday's actions are the second set of sanctions announced this week.

Juan Guaido
Opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president in JanuaryImage: picture.-alliance

Sanctions with support for Guaido

"We are sanctioning members of Maduro's security forces in response to the reprehensible violence, tragic deaths, and unconscionable torching of food and medicine destined for sick and starving Venezuelans," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced.

"The United States strongly supports the efforts of Interim President Juan Guaido, and Treasury will continue to target Maduro loyalists prolonging the suffering of the victims of this man-made humanitarian crisis," the statement continued.

On Monday, the US targeted four Maduro-allied state governors and called on its allies to freeze assets of state-owned oil company PDVSA.

Venezuelan links to Russia

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and said Russia would counteract any attempts to intervene in Venezuela's domestic affairs.

He said close cooperation with Venezuela was gaining "special importance" as the country faced "a frontal attack and a shameless intervention into its internal affairs."

He added that Russia had provided 7.5 tons of medical aid to Venezuela and was planning to send more.

Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow
Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in MoscowImage: Imago/TASS&M. Metzel

Rodriguez said the European office of state oil company PDVSA was being moved from Lisbon to Moscow.

Guaido's tour of South America

On Friday, Guaido traveled to Argentina to meet to meet President Mauricio Macri, one of the dozens of international leaders who support Guaido in his claim to the presidency.

The National Assembly head has already met with US Vice President Mike Pence in Colombia and visited Paraguay to drum up support, and put pressure on Maduro to resign. On Sunday, he is expected in the Chilean capital of Lima, according to local media.

After his meeting with Macri, he called on Venezuelans to protest against Maduro's president during the annual Carnival festival.

"We will transform the tradition of Carnival into a big protest action," Guaido said. 

He also claimed, without providing evidence, that 80 percent of Venezuela's military supported a change in leadership. He said he would continue to seek support of officers.

US protections for Guaido?

The US special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said on Friday the US was concerned Guaido may not be able to return safely to Venezuela following his tour.

Abrams said the Trump administration was discussing proposals to grant Venezuelans Temporary Protected Status. This allows people from countries affected by armed conflict or natural disaster to live and work in the United States for a limited amount of time.

jm/amp (AP, AFP)

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