A day after the U.S. government slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s vice president for being a major drug trafficker, the Socialist administration came out fighting, saying the allegations were a “a grotesque lie” aimed at further destabilizing the struggling country.
Reading a statement, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez said the accusations made against Tareck El Aissami by the U.S. Treasury Department constituted “an international crime” and “an action without precedent in our bilateral relations.”
On Twitter, El Aissami said the sanctions were a badge of honor.
“Personally,” he wrote, “I take this infamous aggression as recognition of my status as a revolutionary anti-imperialist!!”
It’s unclear if Venezuela will retaliate diplomatically, but during past tensions it has ejected U.S. officials.
The two countries haven’t traded ambassadors since 2010, but in her statement Rodríguez said the highest ranking U.S. diplomat, the chargé d’affaires, was using his post to “subvert the legal and constitutional order of our country,” and “to try to breath life into a weak, extinct and extreme opposition in hopes of producing a coup.”
Washington and Caracas have been at odds for more than a decade and the Nicolás Maduro administration has often accused the U.S. of being part of a broader plot to topple his four-year-old administration.
But the sanctions against El Aissami, who became vice president in January, are a new low for the two nations.
On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department said it was adding El Aissami to its sanctions list, saying he had “played a significant role in international narcotics trafficking.” They also froze his access to a fortune estimated at $3 billion after a lengthy investigation of his alleged links to drug traffickers.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) praised the move but said it should be just the beginning. She’s also asking officials to sanction Venezuelan judges behind “unwarranted incarcerations” and “human rights violations” on the sanctions list.
“We must show Venezuelans that their fight is not in vain, that their actions are seen and that their cries are heard,” she said.
Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter: @jimwyss