U.S. announces sanctions against Venezuelan officials
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration on Monday issued sanctions against Venezuelan officials for human rights violations, calling the country's actions a threat to national security.
The sanctions target "Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption"; they will have their "assets and their use of U.S. financial systems blocked," according to the White House.
The move comes amid heightening tensions between Venezuela and the United States. Venezuelan officials have set a deadline for the United States to cut its diplomatic mission in the country, calling for the U.S. Embassy staff to be reduced to 17 diplomats to balance the 17 Venezuelan diplomats that serve in this country.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also said recently that his government had detailed the actions of several American spies and that retaliatory measures would include imposing a visa requirement for American tourists. The U.S. has castigated Venezuela for what it calls anti-American rhetoric.
Observers have said Maduro’s criticism of the United States is a way of distracting Venezuelans from a collapsing economy, which is expected to shrink between 6% and 7% this year amid growing scarcities of basic food items, triple-digit inflation and ongoing devaluation of the currency, the bolivar.
"We’ve seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela," said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. "These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government to deal with the grave situation it faces."
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement that "corrupt actions by Venezuelan government officials deprive Venezuela of needed economic resources that could be invested in the Venezuelan people and used to spur economic growth."
"These actions also undermine the public trust in democratic institutions and the human rights to which Venezuelan citizens are entitled," Lew's statement continued. "This Executive Order will be used to protect the U.S. financial system from the illicit financial flows from public corruption in Venezuela.