President Barack Obama issued an executive order on Monday sanctioning seven high-level Venezuelan officials and declaring the nation a “national security threat,” according to Reuters. The actions follow weeks of accusations by President Nicolás Maduro that a bevy of American conspirators, including Vice President Joe Biden, are attempting to force a coup in his country.
Reuters reports that the White House announced the new sanctions in a statement, in which Press Secretary Josh Earnest said: “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 U.S. financial systems.”
The White House fact sheet on the new executive order notes that the seven individuals targeted were selected for being “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.”
Those on the list include Antonio José Benavides Torres, a former director of operations of the Bolivarian National Guard, the law enforcement unit responsible for the killing of a 14-year-old boy earlier this month at an anti-socialist protest; Gustavo Enrique González López, the director of the Venezuelan Secret Police (SEBIN), which arrested the mayor of Caracas under dubious “coup” charges in February; prosecutor Katherine Nayarith Haringhton Padron, responsible for the Caracas mayor case; and the director of the Bolivarian National Police, which is a separate unit from the National Guard.
These new sanctions follow an initial round of sanctions against high-ranking Venezuelan officials in December. At the time, the Venezuelan government responded with ire. In a New York Times editorial, National Assembly president and nation’s second-in-command Diosdado Cabello accused anti-government protesters of causing the violence in the more-than-year-old protests against the socialist government and claimed it was hypocritical for the United States to sanction Venezuela given protests in Ferguson, Missouri against alleged police violence.
One week ago today, President Maduro sanctioned the United States for alleged “terrorism.” Among the “terrorists” sanctioned were President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, whose right to enter Venezuelan territory was revoked. In statements discussing the sanctions, Maduro claimed President Obama was currently responsible for functional “concentration camps” on U.S. soil.
In February, Maduro directly accused Vice President Joe Biden of orchestrating a “coup” plot to overthrow the socialist government in Caracas. The March sanctions package also included an edict that prohibits any Venezuelans from speaking to American diplomats without prior permission from Maduro.
New statistics revealed this month that the number of homicides of underaged protesters by Venezuelan police rose 55% in the past year. Forty-three people have died since protests escalated to a national rebellion in February 2014.