Wed, May 09, 2018 - Page 7 News List

US slaps new sanctions on Venezuela

‘SHAM’ ELECTION:The measures are to affect 20 firms and three Venezuelans, most notably an ex-intelligence official who has been indicted in the US for drug trafficking

AFP, WASHINGTON

Venezuelan Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for North America Samuel Moncada, right, responds on Monday after US Vice President Mike Pence asked other nations to suspend Venezuela from the Organization of American States in Washington.

Photo: AP

US Vice President Mike Pence on Monday urged Venezuela to suspend a divisive May 20 election he denounced as a “sham,” as Washington slapped fresh sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

In an address to the Organization of American States (OAS), Pence slammed the upcoming presidential vote — boycotted by the opposition and branded illegitimate by much of the international community.

“We call on Maduro to suspend the sham elections and hold real elections,” Pence told the gathering in Washington.

Maduro shot back that Venezuela was not about to follow US orders.

“Do we listen to the imperialists?” Maduro asked supporters at a Caracas forum.

“No,” they cheered.

“Venezuela, rain or shine, will be holding presidential elections on Sunday May 20,” Maduro said to a roar.

Pence’s address came as the US imposed sanctions on 20 companies — 16 in Venezuela and four in Panama — as well as three Venezuelans, including a former top intelligence official indicted in the US for narcotics trafficking.

“We will deny corrupt Venezuelan regime officials access to the US financial system as we work with international partners to support the Venezuelan people in restoration of democracy and a return to prosperity,” US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said in announcing the measures.

US lawmakers have been calling on US President Donald Trump’s administration to take a harder line on Maduro’s government, with Senator Marco Rubio going as far as calling for Washington to press for a regime change.

Meanwhile, the OAS has been deadlocked between members keen to punish Venezuela for democratic backsliding and Maduro’s allies.

Venezuela in April last year began the two-year process of withdrawing from the OAS, which it accuses of interference.

Pence urged the 35-nation body to preempt that move and suspend Caracas in the name of their “long-standing commitment to democracy and freedom.”

The latest sanctions unveiled by the US Department of the Treasury notably designated Pedro Luis Martin Olivares, former chief of financial intelligence for Venezuela’s National Directorate of Intelligence, as a “significant foreign narcotics trafficker.”

Martin worked to move cocaine and other drugs through Venezuela, paying off Venezuelan officials on the border with Colombia and accepting bribes from drug traffickers in both nations.

Martin in 2015 was indicted by a US grand jury in Florida for conspiring to distribute drugs in the US.

The US treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also designated Martin’s partner, Walter Alexander Del Nogal Marquez, and associate Mario Antonio Rodriguez Espinoza for supporting international narcotics trafficking. The companies targeted were owned or controlled by the three men.

Venezuela’s opposition last week called for a boycott of the May 20 election, which Maduro looks likely to win.

Venezuela’s dizzying inflation rose to 13,779 percent in the past year, a study released on Monday by the opposition-dominated National Assembly has found — confirming other estimates showing that Venezuela has by far the world’s highest inflation rate.

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