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  • US: Eyes on Cuba and Russia for Supporting Venezuela

    | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 October 2019

Elliott Abrams, told Reuters exclusively, that Washington is always looking for ways to squeeze Cuba because we do not see any improvement in their conduct either with respect to Venezuela or human rights internally.

U.S. special envoy on Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, told Reuters exclusively Washington´s new sanctions on Cuba for its support for Nicolas Maduro as well as the “closer look” at Russia’s role in helping him remain in power.

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President Donald Trump’s frustration over the failure of his “maximum pressure” campaign to overthrow Maduro has spurred foreign policy aides to ready further U.S. actions and press for tougher sanctions on Venezuela, a second senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.

Abrams said Washington sees Cuba and Russia providing support to Maduro, nine months after the Trump administration and dozens of other countries resolved to no longer recognize the socialist leader as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

“We’re always looking to ways to squeeze (Cuba) because we do not see any improvement in their conduct either with respect to Venezuela or human rights internally,” Abrams said in an interview in his State Department office.

The new sanctions under consideration for Havana, expected “in the weeks ahead,” would likely target the island’s tourism sector as well as Venezuela’s cut-rate oil delivered to the island, building on the U.S. blacklisting of tankers used to transport the supplies, the senior official said.

While U.S. sanctions on Cuba stem from accusations that it provides training, arms and intelligence to Maduro’s security forces, targeting Russia would be based heavily on Moscow’s financial support of Caracas. Oil giant Rosneft has helped Venezuela market its crude since Washington imposed sanctions on state oil company PDVSA in January.

When asked whether Washington is preparing sanctions against Rosneft, Abrams expressed the White House was “taking a closer look at the ways in which Russia is sustaining the regime” but declined to specify any entities or individuals.

In early August, the Trump administration froze U.S. assets of the Venezuelan government and threatened “secondary sanctions” on any company doing business with it, an escalation of pressure on Maduro. Abrams said that the administration now intended to start “naming names” under Trump’s August order and that new individual sanctions are expected over the next three months.

But U.S. officials are mindful of the need for caution in targeting a company as large and far-reaching as Rosneft over its Venezuela ties. “If it was a company that was solely doing business in Venezuela, that’s a slam dunk. But when you deal with entities that have multiple components, we have to be thorough,” Abrams addressed.

At the same time, the Trump administration recognizes the risk of adding tensions to an already-troubled U.S.-Russia relationship at a time when the countries face geopolitical disagreements over issues like Syria, Ukraine and arms control.

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