The U.S. has declared that Venezuela is a threat to national security and has ordered targeted sanctions against seven officials, The White House said on Monday.
The targeted sanctions were imposed on senior Venezuelan officials, which include Venezuela’s army commander, national intelligence director, and national police director.
U.S. President Barack Obama issued and signed the executive order on Monday that declares a “national emergency” amid the “unusual and extraordinary threat” to national security and foreign policy of the U.S. posed by the situation in Venezuela.
I (Barack Obama) hereby report that I have issued an Executive Order (the “order”) declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela. The order does not target the people of Venezuela, but rather is aimed at persons involved in or responsible for the erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption in that country.
The move comes amid growing tensions between the two nations as the diplomatic dispute has become the worst since Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro assumed office in 2013.
According to a statement from the White House, the measure will freeze assets and will deny visas for those who are involved in human rights violations, arbitrary detentions, and public corruption.
This new authority is aimed at persons involved in or responsible for the erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the significant public corruption by senior government officials in Venezuela. The E.O. does not target the people or the economy of Venezuela.
The White House added that it is committed to advancing respect for human rights, safeguarding democratic institutions, and protecting the U.S. financial system from the illicit financial flows from public corruption in Venezuela.
The White House imposed sanctions on the following seven individuals:
▪ Antonio José Benavides Torres, a commander in the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) and the former director of operations for the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB).
▪ Gustavo Enrique González López, the director general of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).
▪ Justo José Noguera Pietri, president of the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana and the former general commander of the GNB.
▪ Katherine Nayarith Haringhton Padron, a national prosecutor who has charged several opposition members with conspiracy.
▪ Manuel Eduardo Pérez Urdaneta, the director of the Bolivarian National Police.
▪ Manuel Gregorio Bernal Martínez, chief of the 31st Armored Brigade of Caracas and the former head of the SEBIN.
▪ Miguel Alcides Vivas Landino, the inspector general of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB).
President Maduro responded late on Monday night saying that he would ask the Venezuelan parliament for decree powers to “preserve peace” and “fight imperialism”, Reuters reported.
Last week Venezuela ordered the U.S. to slash the size of its embassy staff in Caracas by over 80% from 100 diplomats to a mere 17 following an announcement that U.S. tourists now needed a visa to enter the nation.
On February 20, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said that the U.S. State and Treasury departments were considering “tools” that could be used to “steer” Venezuela in a “better direction”.
On February 12, President Maduro announced during a televised nationwide address that a U.S.-backed coup plot against the Venezuelan government had been foiled, and that both civilians and members of the military had been detained.
Maduro claimed that those that were involved in the plot to overthrow the Venezuelan government were being paid in U.S. dollars, and that one of the suspects had been granted a visa to enter the U.S. if the plot had failed.
Maduro said that the coup plotters already had a “transitional” government and program lined up once the plan — which included bombings of the Presidential Palace and various other offices throughout Caracas, as well as the assassinations of members of the opposition, Maduro and others — was carried out.
The U.S. State Department later issued a statement denying any such involvement in a coup attempt or destabilization in Venezuela and called the accusations “baseless and false”.
Maduro is facing a number of challenges on his domestic front in Venezuela, including a contracting economy, low oil prices, surging inflation, dwindling foreign currency reserves, mounting debt, the risk of a sovereign default, an unhappy electorate, shortages of basic foods and household products, and social unrest.