US imposes sanctions on shipping firms, tankers tied to Venezuela

US imposes sanctions on shipping firms, tankers tied to Venezuela
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The Treasury Department on Friday said it is slapping new sanctions on companies involved in shipping oil from Venezuela to Cuba, marking the latest move by the U.S. to clamp down on embattled President Nicolás Maduro.
 
Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said the sanctions apply to a shipping company registered in Liberia and another in the Marshall Islands, and that both contracted their tankers to take oil from Venezuela to Cuba in recent months. 
 
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Cuba's government, which is Maduro's top regional ally, provides medical and security assistance to Venezuela and is the main recipient of Venezuelan foreign aid, mostly in the form of oil.
 
 
“Treasury’s action today puts Venezuela’s military and intelligence services, as well as those who support them, on notice that their continued backing of the illegitimate Maduro regime will be met with serious consequences,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “The U.S. will take further action if Cuba continues to receive Venezuelan oil in exchange for military support."
 
The Trump administration has been tightening sanctions on individuals linked to Maduro's government in an attempt to provoke regime change in favor of National Assembly President Juan Guaidó.
 
Guaidó in January was declared interim president of Venezuela by the opposition, and has so far been recognized as such by more than 50 countries, including the United States.
 
But despite U.S. support and appeals to Venezuelan security forces to turn on Maduro, Guaidó's movement has failed to gain steam. Maduro's Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) has begun arresting opposition leaders.
 
"Today’s designations, which are a direct response to SEBIN’s illegal arrest of National Assembly members, is intended to target those actors who have had a hand in the repressive Maduro defense and intelligence sector," the Treasury Department said Friday.
 
SEBIN, the Cuban-assisted Venezuelan secret police, has been accused of torturing political prisoners, among other atrocities.
 
Cuban security assistance and the alleged involvement of the Venezuelan military in the trans-Atlantic cocaine trade have helped keep military commanders on Maduro's side.
 
In an attempt to peel away top officials from Maduro, the U.S. has offered sanctions relief to defectors.