Venezuela

Washington lashes out at companies shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba

In its ongoing effort to strangle the Venezuelan economy, Washington on Tuesday slapped sanctions on four companies that operate vessels shipping Venezuelan oil to its ally Cuba.

But the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, OFAC, also removed sanctions from two companies after they quit doing business with Washington’s foes.

In a statement, Treasury said it was imposing the new sanctions because Cuba’s state-run oil import and export company, Cubametales, continued to circumvent sanctions slapped on Venezuelan oil exports in January.

On Tuesday, OFAC said it was sanctioning Caroil Transport Marine Ltd., a Cyprus-based company that operates three shipping vessels, the Carlota C, the Sandino and the Petion, which had all delivered or loaded Venezuelan crude oil destined for Cuba.

Treasury also sanctioned the registered owners of those ships, Trocana World Inc. and Tovase Development Corp, both based in Panama; as well as Bluelane Overseas, which owns a tanker named Giralt that recently delivered Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the move was part of Washington’s strategy to punish Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and his allies.

“Maduro’s Cuban benefactors provide a lifeline to the regime and enable its repressive security and intelligence apparatus,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “Venezuela’s oil belongs to the Venezuelan people, and should not be used as a bargaining tool to prop up dictators and prolong the usurpation of Venezuelan democracy.”

Venezuela boasts the world’s largest oil reserves but has seen production and exports crater amid widespread corruption and efficiency, as well as escalating U.S. sanctions.

Washington and more than 50 other nations recognize the head of Venezuela’s congress, Juan Guaidó, as the country’s legitimate leader and want Maduro to step down. Maduro, however, claims he has the right to run the shattered country through 2025 and says the sanctions are hurting his ability to import food and medicine. However, critical shortages were already sweeping through Venezuela before sanctions began in earnest.

When companies and individuals are sanctioned they’re effectively excluded from the U.S. financial system and U.S. citizens, residents or even those passing through the U.S. are barred from doing business with them.

The new restrictions come as Cuba is facing a severe gasoline shortage and Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel on Tuesday reacted angrily to the sanctions.

“The government of the United States is applying a brutal and genocidal policy of hardening its blockade and financial persecution, as well as blocking the arrival of fuel to Cuba,” Díaz-Canel wrote on Twitter. “The country will resist and triumph.”

Maduro spent Tuesday in Moscow where he said he would be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss economic ties. In a tweet, he said Russia was “fundamental to building a prosperous future for Venezuela.”

As part of its strategy, the Trump administration has been ratcheting up economic and targeted sanctions. But it’s a carrot and stick approach, and Treasury has told the more than 100 people and entities that have been targeted since 2015 that they can be removed from the lists if they make changes.

On Tuesday, Treasury said it was taking two companies, two ships and an aircraft off its list of sanctioned and blocked property.

In May, Serenity Maritime Limited was sanctioned for dealing in Venezuelan oil and its vessel, the Leon Dias, was identified as blocked property. Since then, Serenity has “adopted sanctions compliance measures that included the discontinuation of business activities with Cubametales, which chartered the Leon Dias to transport Venezuelan oil to Cuba,” Treasury said.

In addition, Lima Shipping Corp. and its boat New Hellas, which had been sanctioned in April, also came off the list.

Finally, OFAC delisted aircraft N133JA, which was blocked in January because it was identified as property of Gustavo Adolfo Perdomo, a Venezuelan businessman charged with corruption. OFAC said the aircraft is no longer associated with Perdomo.

“The United States has made clear that the removal of sanctions is available for persons… who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the illegitimate former Maduro regime, and combat corruption in Venezuela,” Treasury said.

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