U.S. expands sanctions against Venezuela officials

People queue outside a supermarket in Caracas on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015.
People queue outside a supermarket in Caracas on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. State Department on Monday said it is expanding the number of Venezuelan officials and their family members who will be denied U.S. visas in punishment for their human rights’ records and for corruption.

In a statement, the agency said it was imposing the sanctions on current and former officials who were responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses. It also said it was targeting those who were responsible for acts of public corruption, which it said are “contributing to the rapidly worsening economic and social conditions in Venezuela.”

The sanctions come less than two months after the U.S. revoked visas and froze assets of officials responsible for violence and human rights violations in the wake of anti-government protests early last year.

The government said it would not release the names of those targeted.

Reacting to the news, President Nicolás Maduro said he would send President Barack Obama a letter in English, so that there was no doubt about how it might be translated.

“The policy of the U.S. empire toward Venezuela is chaotic and being held hostage by an irresponsible imperial faction,” he said during a speech to Venezuela’s Supreme Court. “They are taking the United States down a dead-end street when it comes to its relationship with Venezuela and Latin America.”

Facing an economic crisis amid plummeting crude prices, Venezuela has been trying to keep a lid on growing social unrest. On Sunday, Maduro ordered the arrest of executives at one of the country’s largest pharmacy chains, Farmatodo, on allegations that they were withholding key products to try to spur panic and generate massive lines.

The State Department cited the government’s intransigence as reason for the additional sanctions, saying the administration had ignored “repeated calls for change by governments, respected leaders, and groups of experts.”

“The Venezuelan government has continued to demonstrate a lack of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the State Department said, “attempting to stifle dissent by prosecuting political activists and cracking down on peaceful protests, which were triggered by deteriorating security, economic, social, and political conditions.”