The tensions between the US and Venezuela have intensified over sanctions on several top officials in Caracas. The rift has threatened to negate the good will Obama gained in the region for opening the door to Cuba.
The Venezuelan government took out a full page advertisement in the New York Times on Tuesday to tell the United States that Caracas "is not a threat" and to demand President Obama abolish sanctions imposed earlier in March.
The open letter from the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry appealed to "our American brothers and sisters" to ask their president to roll back sanctions targeting seven senior Venezuelan officials accused of an opposition crackdown in the wake what they allege was a coup attempt. The letter decries the US government's "tyrannical and imperial order" based on "libelous and defamatory statements."
The sanctions prompted Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro (pictured above) to recall his envoy to Washington and to ramp-up his anti-US rhetoric. He then ordered ten days of "defensive military exercises" and asked the National Assembly to grant him new powers to rule by decree on matters of defense a public safety - a request voted through by his legislative majority on Sunday.
The Venezuelan army has been showing off new Chinese and Russian made weapons during its military exercises
The US sanctions, which include a visa ban for several top officials, comes on the heels of Venezuela's own tightening of restrictions on March 3. A new set of published regulations removed the US from a list of countries who citizens could travel into the South American country without a visa.
Havana stands behind Caracas
The tensions between the Washington and Caracas overshadowed a fresh round of talks between the US and Cuba on the matter of normalizing their relations. Cuba's Fidel Castro warned on Tuesday that Venezuela was prepared to confront US "threats and impositions." Obama's measure cites Venezuela as an "extraordinary threat to the national security" of his country, something interpreted by both Castro and Maduro have interpreted as a warning of possible violence.
Castro was very close to Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, whom Maduro replaced in 2013. Chavez provided Havana with a steady supply of cut-rate oil.
"No matter what the imperialism of the United States may do," said Castro's letter, the Venezuelan people and armed forces would remain strong.
His comments came a day after US and Cuban officials met for diplomatic talks in Havana. As the US top diplomat for Latin American, Robert Jacobson, touched down on Sunday night, thousands of Cubans attended a rally to "support the Bolivarian (Venezuelan) people and government" in their row with Washington.
The Cuban media did not cover Jacobson's visit, opting instead for Venezuela-focused coverage.
es/ (AFP, AP, Reuters)