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Obama calls situation in Venezuela 'threat to national security'; imposes sanctions

The White House has called for the release of all political prisoners, including students, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and mayors Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma.

By
Andrew V. Pestano
President Barack Obama expanded on the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 in the new sanctions. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
President Barack Obama expanded on the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 in the new sanctions. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, March 9 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama imposed new sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials Monday and declared the country's situation a "threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

Obama signed an executive order declaring a national emergency to protect human rights and democratic institutions in Venezuela and to protect the U.S. financial system from illicit capital flows from the country.

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"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," a statement released by the White House said. "We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government's efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents."

Any property within the United States of the sanctioned officials will be blocked or frozen. People from the United States are prohibited from doing business with the officials.

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The sanctions target Venezuelan officials who take actions that undermine democratic processes, who conduct significant acts of violence or violations of human rights and actions that suppress free speech or assembly, among other reasons.

"We've seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela," the White House statement said. "These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government to deal with the grave situation it faces."

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The sanctions also target officials who are deemed corrupt and those who were involved in human rights abuses during anti-government protests in the country last year where 43 people died.

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"Venezuela's problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent," the White House added.

The President imposed sanctions on the following seven individuals listed in the Annex to the Executive Order:

1. Antonio José Benavides Torres: Commander of the Strategic Region for the Integral Defense of the Central Region of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Armed Forces. 2. Gustavo Enrique González López: Director General of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Intelligence Service. 3. Justo José Noguera Pietri: President of the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana (CVG), a state-owned entity. 4. Katherine Nayarith Haringhton Padron: national level prosecutor of the 20th District Office of Venezuela's Public Ministry. 5. Manuel Eduardo Pérez Urdaneta: Director of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Police. 6. Manuel Gregorio Bernal Martínez : Chief of the 31st Armored Brigade of Caracas of Venezuela's Bolivarian Army. 7. Miguel Alcides Vivas Landino: Inspector General of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Armed Forces.

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"It is unfortunate that during a time when we have opened up engagement with every nation in the Americas, Venezuela has opted to go in the opposite direction," the White House added, assuring a commitment to diplomacy with the Venezuelan government.

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Venezuela is facing an ongoing economic and political crisis under the leadership of President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro recently announced Venezuela's own sanctions against the United States, requiring that U.S. government workers in Venezuela be reduced from about 100 to 17, the same number Venezuela has in the United States.

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