Wed, Mar 11, 2015 - Page 7 News List

US declares Venezuela a national security threat

‘DEEPLY CONCERNED’:A US spokeman said that the Venezuelan government’s attempts to intimidate its political opponents would ‘not be welcome here’


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds up a book containing the nation’s constitution during a national television broadcast in Caracas on Monday.

Photo: Reuters

The US on Monday declared Venezuela a national security threat and ordered sanctions against seven officials from the oil-rich nation in the worst bilateral diplomatic dispute since Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro took office in 2013.

US President Barack Obama signed and issued the executive order, which senior administration officials said did not target Venezuela’s energy sector or broader economy. However, the move stokes tensions between Washington and Caracas just as US relations with Cuba, a longtime US foe in Latin America and key ally to Venezuela, are set to be normalized.

Maduro denounced the sanctions as an attempt to topple his government. At the end of a thundering two-hour speech, Maduro said he would seek decree powers to counter the “imperialist” threat, and appointed one of the sanctioned officials, Venezuelan National Intelligence head Gustavo Gonzalez, as the new minister of the interior.

Declaring any nation a threat to national security is the first step in starting a US sanctions program. The same process has been followed with Iran and Syria, US officials said.

The White House said the order targeted people whose actions undermined democratic processes or institutions, had committed acts of violence or abuse of human rights, were involved in prohibiting or penalizing freedom of expression, or were government officials involved in public corruption.

“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.

“We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents,” he added.

Venezuela called home its charge d’affaires in Washington for consultations, and Maduro accused Obama of a “colossal mistake” and “imperialist arrogance” similar to former US presidents Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

“President Barack Obama ... has personally decided to take on the task of defeating my government and intervening in Venezuela to control it,” Maduro said in a televised address.

Maduro said he planned yesterday to ask the National Assembly, controlled by the ruling United Socialist Party, to grant him decree powers — for the second time in his nearly two-year rule through a so-called Enabling Law, which critics blast as a power grab.

Maduro also paraded the seven officials, hailing them as “heroes.”

The two nations have not had full diplomatic representation since 2008, when former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez expelled then-US Ambassador Patrick Duddy. Washington responded by expelling Venezuelan envoy Bernardo Alvarez.

The list of sanctioned individuals includes National Police Chief Manuel de Jesus Perez Sanchez and former National Guard commander Justo Noguero, who runs state-owned mining firm CVG. It also includes three other military officers and a state prosecutor.

The individuals would have their property and interests in the US blocked or frozen and would be denied entry into the US. US citizens and permanent residents would be prohibited from doing business with them.

The White House also called on Venezuela to release all political prisoners.

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