The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on five Iranian ship captains who delivered oil to Venezuela. At a press conference announcing the decision, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also reiterated Washington’s backing for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Pompeo said the ships involved had delivered about 1.5 million barrels of Iranian gasoline and related components, and warned mariners against doing business with the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose ouster Washington seeks.
Pompeo claimed that:
“As a result of today’s sanctions, these captains’ assets will be blocked. Their careers and prospects will suffer from this designation.
We will continue to support the National Assembly, interim President Guaido, and the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore democracy.”
The Trump administration is seeking to block Iran’s oil and fuel exports and also to bring down Venezualan President Nicolas Maduro. It has threatened more reprisals and warned ports, shipping companies and insurers against participating in any transactions between the two countries.
Venezuela’s oil exports are near their lowest levels in more than 70 years and its economy has been devastated by several years of increasingly stringent unilateral sanctions imposed by successive US administrations.
Yet Maduro has remained in power and still has a solid level of support among Venezuelan people, as well as among the military which the US has repeatedly urged to overthrow the government in a military coup. Venezuela also enjoys the support of Russia, Cuba, China and Iran in particular.
The US’ inability to overthrow the Venezuela government has pushed the frustrated Trump administration to ever more extreme and at times reckless actions, such as when he made vague threats suggesting the US was considering intercepting the fuel shipments by force as they were underway in May. The threatening statements were made after a large US naval force had been deployed in the waters of the Atlantic between Venezuela and Iran.
In a statement on Twitter, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called the sanctions “an excess of arrogance” and “more proof of the Trump hawks’ hatred of all Venezuelans”.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi wrote in a tweet that Washington’s action signalled the failure of its pressure campaign and said Iran and Venezuela “remain steadfast in countering unlawful American sanctions.”
In an interview with news site Axios published on Sunday, Trump played down his January 2019 decision to recognize Guaido, former speaker of the opposition-held National Assembly, as rightful leader.
The United States and most other Western countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president since January 2019, in blatant contravention of Venezuelan, US and international laws and norms.
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