US slaps travel restrictions on Venezuelan officials

While Washington did not specify how many Venezuelans would be affected by the restrictions, it said those “who have been responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses” would not be welcome in the US.

US state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement released on Wednesday that the travel restrictions were in response to “arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force” by Venezuelan officials as they tried to contain growing anti-government protest.

The Venezuelan opposition has been lobbying for sanctions since thousands of protesters were detained during anti-government protests in which at least 42 people were killed.

In February and March, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to protest skyrocketing inflation, shortages of basic food and hygiene items, and spiralling crime.

Prominent opposition figures were arrested and have been charged with inciting violence, while thousands of protesters were detained. Many have since been released, but there have been allegations they were intimidated, beaten and tortured.

Meanwhile, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to launch a coup against his government at the behest of “the imperialist US force.”

Relations between the US and Venezuela soured further on Sunday when General Hugo Carvajal, the former head of Venezuelan military intelligence, was released from custody in Aruba and accorded a hero’s welcome in Caracas.

Carvajal had been detained on the Dutch Caribbean island over US accusations of drug-trafficking, with the US Treasury saying he had been protecting drug shipments by Colombian Farc rebels.

He was released after Caracas claimed he had been appointed Venezuela’s consul in Aruba and had diplomatic immunity.

The US said Carvajal’s release was “deeply disappointing” and accused Venezuela of threatening Aruba and the Netherlands into freeing him.

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