Photo by Fernando Llano/AP
The government of Cuba on Tuesday offered "unconditional support" to Venezuela after the White House declared the South American country a threat to "national security" and imposed new sanctions on Venezuelan officials.It wasn't immediately clear if the involvement of Cuba in the growing diplomatic spat between the US and Venezuela could threaten the ongoing talks to normalize relations between the Communist island nation and the United States.
It was the Raul Castro government's first major public criticism of the US since normalization talks began in December."How does Venezuela threaten the United States?" the Cuban government said in a Tuesday statement posted on its official media organ Granma."Thousands of kilometers away, without strategic weapons and without employing resources nor officials to plot against US constitutional order, the [White House] statement is unbelievable, and lays bare the intentions of those who have come up with it."Cuba also called the US move "arbitrary and aggressive."
On Monday, US President Barack Obama signed an executive order to freeze any assets inside the US belonging to seven top Venezuelan military and intelligence officials.The order, published by the Treasury Department, said it was blocking the Venezuelans' assets in response to human rights abuses suffered by Venezuelan opposition leaders and threats again Venezuelan civil society. The sanctions also prohibit US persons from dealing with the seven Venezuelan officials.Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro last month arrested and jailed the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, alleging the opposition figure was orchestrating a US-sponsored coup.Related: Maduro Says Venezuela Has Detained a US Pilot Accused of Espionage.The US rejected suggestions that the new sanctions were a direct response to Ledezma's arrest, or recent decisions by Maduro's government to limit the number of American staff at the US Embassy in Caracas and require visas for US visitors.
'The pueblo of Venezuela are a pueblo of peace, President Obama.'
"This is an implementation of what we've been working on for months, which is cracking down on those who are violating human rights and abusers and those who are cracking down on civil society," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a press briefing on Monday.The State Department also declined to answer questions about how exactly Venezuela posed a threat to national security for the US.In Venezuela, Maduro bristled at the sanctions in a speech that lasted more two hours."The pueblo of Venezuela are a pueblo of peace, President Obama," Maduro said in Caracas. "You have no right to attack it, call it a threat to the national security of the United States. The only threat to the security of the people of the United States is you, those who decide to invade, kill, finance terrorism in the world."In a background conference call with reporters, senior White House officials who were not named emphasized the sanctions would not affect Venezuelan oil exports to the US. The United States is Venezuela's largest trading parter and Venezuela is the fourth largest supplier of crude oil to the US, Reuters reported.Related: A Condom Shortage Is Altering the Sex Lives of Young People in Venezuela.For updates on Venezuela, follow @vicenews.