Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Venezuela has paid about $5 billion in oil to Cuba and China and made military purchases from Russia worth hundreds of millions of dollars this year amid its ongoing economic crisis, a U.S. Venezuela diplomat said Wednesday as proof that the regime is not attempting to alleviate the plight its people face.
Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative for Venezuela, told reporters in Washington, D.C., that embattled President Nicolas Maduro has the money to buy food and medicine for his people but has chosen not to, deciding instead to pay off debts to foreign countries and sign military contracts for "tools to repress its own people."
Last year, Maduro's government sent nearly $3 billion in oil to China to reduce its debts to the Asian nation, about $900 million to Cuba and paid Rosneft, a Russian oil company, over $1.5 billion and signed $209 million in military contracts with Russia for fighter jets, military helicopter and other similar items, he said.
"The regime in Caracas can buy all the food and medicine it wants, including in the United States, and in fact, it has been buying food in the United States throughout this year," he said. "The problem for Venezuela is it has not been buying enough. It has the money."
The United States has been applying diplomatic and economic pressure on Venezuela through repeatedly imposing sanctions to force Maduro to step down. Earlier this year, the South American country's National Assembly deemed Maduro's 2018 re-election as illegitimate and opposition leader Juan Guido appointed himself interim president and gained the support of over 55 nations in doing so.
Maduro has managed to cling to power despite international pressure and domestic hardships, which he blames on the increasingly restrictive U.S. sanctions.
Abrams defended the sanctions Wednesday, saying that all indicators show its economic problems began in 2014, well before the United States began applying its full-court press in 2017, which it intends to increase.
"My point is there are resources available to the regime, but it chooses to steal them or use them to pay China, Russia and Cuba rather than to procure food and medicine, and it uses food to control the population," he said. "There can be no solution to the terrible problems faced daily by Venezuelans while the Maduro regime is in power because the Maduro regime created those problems and is exacerbating them."
Since taking power, the Trump administration has imposed over 132 sanctions against the regime, including against 82 Venezuelan government and military officials, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Despite Maduro still in power, the United States will continue with its sanctions regime and there are plans to reinforce it, Abrams said.
"We would like to see the sanctions work better and there are a number of companies around the world and individuals around the world that try sanction busting, which is why the Treasury keeps finding new targets for our sanctions," he said. "But we think that the funds available to the regime are diminishing. The gravy train days that they had 10 years ago are over."
"We will continue our sanctions program and try to make it work better and better," he said.