New U.S. Sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela

On April 5, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba. The sanctions are on 34 vessels owned or operated by Venezuelan state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A, or PDVSA , and also on two companies and a vessel that delivered oil to Cuba in February and March. The announcement stated, “The United States continues to take strong action against the illegitimate regime of former President Nicolas Maduro, not only to isolate corrupt Venezuelan enterprises, but also to target Maduro’s supporters in Havana who continue to enable the oppression of the people of Venezuela.” [1]

The announcement further said, “The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela hinges on a two-decade long political, security, and economic alliance, particularly given Cuba’s reliance on a barter system for Venezuelan oil imports.  Cuba is a major importer of crude oil from Venezuela, and in return, sends assistance to Venezuela in the form of political advisors, intelligence and military officials, and medical professionals, all of whom are used to ensure Maduro’s hold on power and complete social control over the people of Venezuela.  Cuba’s influence has contributed to Venezuela’s failure.  Maduro continues to send aid to Cuba as Venezuelans suffer from a deepening humanitarian crisis while denying entry to food, medicine, and other supplies provided by the United States and our allies and partners.”

“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these entities, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated entities, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC [Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control]. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.”

The Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, said, “Treasury is taking action against vessels and entities transporting oil, providing a lifeline to keep the illegitimate Maduro regime afloat. Cuba continues to profit from, and prop up, the illegitimate Maduro regime through oil-for-repression schemes as they attempt to keep Maduro in power. The United States remains committed to a transition to democracy in Venezuela and to holding the Cuban regime accountable for its direct involvement in Venezuela’s demise.”

Vice President Mike Pence also voiced support for these new measures on April 5, actually just before their official announcement.. He said, “The United States will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy, calling oil shipments “the lifeblood of that corrupt regime” with its oil shipments being “the lifeblood of that corrupt regime.”Pence also called Cuba’s “leaders as the “real imperialists” in the Western Hemisphere, adding: “The time has come to liberate Venezuela from Cuba.”[2]

Cuban President Díaz-Canel immediately responded to these new sanctions. He tweeted, The U.S. “sanctioned Friday vessels and companies involved in the transportation of fuel between [Cuba and Venezuela], a legal activity and covered by trade agreements. These measures are an act of extraterritoriality, interference and imperial arrogance.”[3]

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[1] Treasury Dept, Press Release: Treasury Sanctions Companies Operating in the Oil Sector of the Venezuelan Economy and Transporting Oil to Cuba (April 5, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Targets Cuba’s Oil Supply From Venezuela in New Sanctions, N.Y. Times (April 5, 2019).

[2] Reuters, U.S. ratchets Up Pressure on Venezuela, Cuban Backers, N.Y. Times (April 6, 2019).

[3] Diaz-Canel qualified as an act of extraterritoriality, interference and imperial arrogance, the recent sanctions against Venezuela and Cuba, Granma (April 6, 2019).