Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The Trump administration continued to tighten its economic stranglehold on Venezuela Tuesday by blacklisting six tankers that President Nicolas Maduro uses to ship oil to Cuba to evade sanctions.
The Treasury Department said Tuesday it has designated six vessels of Venezuela's state-run oil and gas company Petroleos de Venezuela as "blocked property" as part of the United States' effort to exert pressure on embattled Maduro.
"Cuba and the former Maduro regime continue trying to circumvent sanctions by changing the names of vessels and facilitating the movement of oil from Venezuela to Cuba," Treasury Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich said in a statement. "The United States will continue to take necessary action to protect the people of Venezuela."
The Treasury Department said it was specifically targeting the method in which Venezuela transports oil to Cuba for which it in return receives security and intelligence assistance.
The Treasury also identified another vessel named Esperanza of Caroil Transport Marine that was previously blacklisted under the name Nedas in April.
The move prohibits U.S. citizens from performing any form of transaction with the blacklisted vessels.
Last week, Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative for Venezuela, told reporters that Maduro sent approximately $900 million in oil to Cuba this year instead of using the funds to battle the ongoing economic crisis at home.
He said the regime has money but chooses to pay off debts and buy military equipment instead of food or medicine.
Abrams said the United States would like its sanctions regime to perform better and was looking for ways to reinforce them.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the vessels were blacklisted to stop the Cuban and Maduro regimes from attempting to evade sanctions.
"While the Venezuelan people continue to take to the streets to demand basic services and a return to freedom and prosperity, Maduro chooses to shop a vital natural resource to Cuba in exchange for Cuban security and intelligence services that preserve his influence in Venezuela," Pompeo said in a statement. "Cuba continues to prop up Nicolas Maduro, subverting the Venezuelan people's right to self-determination and undermining Venezuelan institutions."
Since Maduro's 2018 re-election was deemed illegitimate early this year, the United States, along with over 55 nations, has backed opposition leader Juan Guido to helm the country.