US hits Venezuela officials with sanctions for blocking aid

AP , Friday 1 Mar 2019

The Trump administration, stepping up pressure on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, on Friday slapped sanctions on six high-ranking Venezuelan security officials for obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid into their country.

The Treasury Department said the six, including officials with the National Guard and police, are allied with Maduro, who has closed Venezuela's borders with Brazil and Colombia to prevent assistance from countries opposed to his continued rule from entering.

The sanctions block any assets they have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from conducting financial transactions with them. They are part of a campaign to pressure Maduro to step down and turn over power to opposition leader Juan Guaido.

"This action ... targets six security officials who control many of the groups that prevented humanitarian aid from entering Venezuela, thereby exacerbating the humanitarian crisis that has left millions of Venezuelans starving and without access to medical care under the Maduro regime,'' the Treasury Department said in a statement.

It said the six control groups that fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, set some humanitarian aid trucks on fire and threatened to fire on a ship carrying assistance from Puerto Rico.

Those targeted are Richard Jesus Lopez, the commander of Venezuela's National Guard; Jesus Maria Mantilla, the commander of Venezuela's Strategic Integral Defense Region Guayana; Alberto Mirtiliano Bermudez, the general in charge of Venezuela's Integral Defense Zone in Bolivar State, which borders Brazil; Jose Leonardo Noronom, the general in charge of Venezuela's Integral Defense Zone in Tachira State, which borders Colombia; Jose Miguel Dominguez, a national police commander in Tachira; and Cristhiam Abelardo Morales, another commander in Tachira.

The U.S. recognized Guaido as Venezuela's interim president last month. Maduro was re-elected last year in an election widely viewed as illegitimate, but the security services have largely remained loyal.

Guaido had announced that last weekend's attempt to deliver U.S.-supplied humanitarian aid from Colombia into Venezuela would be politically decisive, but Maduro called the aid part of a scheme to overthrow his government.

Maduro has denounced his opponents as killers and criminals in fiery speeches reminiscent of the style of his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez.

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