US declares Venezuela national security threat, sanctions top officials

President Barack Obama issued and signed the executive order declaring the country a national security threat, the first step in starting a sanctions regime. 

“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 US financial systems,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez told reporters that Caracas would respond to the US move soon.

The White House also called on Venezuela to release all political prisoners, including “dozens of students,” and warned against blaming Washington for its problems.

“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,” Earnest said in the statement.

“These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government to deal with the grave situation it faces,” he added.

Opposition leader and twice-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles told Reuters the sanctions were a problem for a corrupt elite in the Maduro government, but not ordinary Venezuelans.

“It’s not a problem with Venezuela or with Venezuelans; it’s a problem for the corrupt ones. It doesn’t affect we Venezuelans,” he said.

“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,” the treasury secretary, Jacob Lew, said in a statement. “These actions also undermine the public trust in democratic institutions and the human rights to which Venezuelan citizens are entitled.”

The sanctions come after the US Congress passed legislation late last year authorizing penalties that would freeze the assets and ban visas for anyone accused of carrying out acts of violence or violating the human rights of those opposing the Venezuela’s government.

The sanctioned officials include former members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard (GNB). The White House said GNB members have engaged in “significant acts of violence or conduct that constitutes a serious abuse or violation of human rights”.

“In various cities in Venezuela, members of the GNB used force against peaceful protestors and journalists, including severe physical violence, sexual assault, and firearms,” the White House said in a fact sheet on the sanctions.

The seven sanctioned officials, whose property and interests in the United States are now blocked or frozen and who will be denied entry into the United States and prohibited from doing business with US persons, are:

Antonio José Benavides Torres, commander in Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Armed Forces and former GNB operations director.
Gustavo Enrique González López, director general of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Intelligence Service. The US said he is responsible for or complicit in acts of violence and other human rights abuses against anti-government protestors. He was also associated with the surveillance of Venezuelan opposition leaders.

Justo José Noguera Pietri, president of the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana a state-owned entity, and former GNB general commander.

Katherine Nayarith Haringhton Padrón, national level prosecutor of who has charged several opposition members with conspiracy related to alleged assassination and coup attempts using what the US said were “implausible and in some cases fabricated information”.

Manuel Eduardo Pérez Urdaneta, director of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Police. The US said the policy force has engaged in “significant acts of violence or conduct that constitutes a serious abuse or violation of human rights”.

Manuel Gregorio Bernal Martínez, chief of the 31st Armored Brigade of Caracas of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Army and former director general of national intelligence services. He was intelligence chief on 12 February 2014, when officials fired their weapons on protesters, killing two individuals near the attorney general’s office.

Miguel Alcides Vivas Landino, inspector general of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Armed Forces.



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