U.S. says action prompted by Venezuela’s human rights violations
President Barack Obama has declared Venezuela a threat to national security amid several allegations of human rights abuses and public corruption.
The U.S. says the executive order, signed last week, was necessary to begin sanctions against the country.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denounced Obama’s move in a televised speech shortly after his declaration.
“Today [the President] has taken the most aggressive, unjust, and harmful step that has ever been taken by the U.S. against Venezuela,” said Maduro. He also accused the U.S of attempting to overthrow his government.
Maduro made it clear that Venezuela’s economy would not be targeted by the sanctions. Instead, sanctions have been imposed on seven officials, including Gonzalez, the head of the state intelligence service Sebin, Manuel Perez, director of the national police, as well as three other military officers.
“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
The targeted individuals will not be allowed to enter into the country and will lose access to any U.S. property or assets.
The recent deterioration in relations with the oil-rich country comes just as the U.S. and Cuba are seeking renewed diplomatic ties. Venezuela has long been a key Cuban ally.
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro wrote an open letter to Maduro, confirming his continued support for the socialist state.
“I congratulate you for your brilliant and brave speech regarding the U.S. government’s brutal plans. Your words will go down in history as proof that humanity can and must know the truth,” wrote Castro.
The White House stressed that its latest move serves to condemn Venezuela’s increasingly harsh policy toward political opponents. Indeed, the country has seen countless demonstrations in which violence against civilians has undoubtedly happened.
Nicolas Maduro has announced that he plans to rule by decree in response to the U.S. threat. The Venezuelan President would call upon an Enabling Law for the second time in two years, giving him increased power.
The U.S. and Venezuela have often clashed diplomatically in recent history, especially under former President Hugo Chavez. However, commercial and economic ties between the two countries have not been damaged by the political tensions.
Both countries have not had a normalized diplomatic relationship since 2008 when former leader Hugo Chavez dismissed U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy.