WASHINGTON – The United States imposed sanctions on Friday on two companies and two oil tankers in order to punish the transport of crude oil from Venezuela to Cuba, and threatened with new restrictions those operating in the defense and intelligence sectors of the South American country.
In a statement, the US Treasury Department described its sanctions as “a direct response to Sebin’s (Bolivarian Intelligence Service’s) illegal arrest of National Assembly members,” two days after the vice president of that chamber, Edgar Zambrano, was taken into custody.
The Treasury’s action on Friday “puts Venezuela’s military and intelligence services, as well as those who support them, on notice that their continued backing of the illegitimate Maduro regime will be met with serious consequences,” added US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The sanctions mark Washington’s first reprisal for the arrest of Zambrano, accused together with another nine lawmakers of being involved in the failed military uprising led last week against Maduro by National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaido, recognized as the legitimate president of Venezuela by the United States.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded on Thursday the immediate release of Zambrano, but a Venezuelan court ordered Friday that he be locked up in Venezuela’s chief military fort.
The new US sanctions affect two Panama-flagged oil tankers, the Leon Dias and the Ocean Elegance, which according to the Treasury Department delivered Venezuelan oil to Cuba from late 2018 until March 2019.
They also sanctioned the companies that own those tankers, which are, respectively, Liberia’s Serenity Maritime Ltd. and the Monsoon Navigation Corp., based in the Marshall Islands.
The purpose of the economic restrictions is to punish those with influence on Maduro’s intelligence and military services, which includes Venezuela’s petroleum sector, the Treasury said.
The United States has sanctioned a number of high-ranking Venezuelan officers, but in recent weeks it has multiplied its accusations of alleged Cuban interference in Venezuela’s military and intelligence services.
White House National Security Advisor John Bolton has said that some 20,000 Cubans have infiltrated Venezuelan security forces – something that Cuba denies – and that if they left Venezuela, the Maduro regime would fall.
At the same time, Treasury recalled that it is ready to lift sanctions on those members of the Venezuelan military “who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order,” as it did in this week’s pardon of Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera after he broke with Maduro.