Administration slaps sanctions on shipping companies moving Venezuelan oil

Administration slaps sanctions on shipping companies moving Venezuelan oil
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The Trump administration announced sanctions Tuesday on four shipping companies accused of transporting oil from Venezuela, in violation of U.S. sanctions against the country's government.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Trump steps up Iran fight in final election stretch MORE said in a statement the four companies — three registered in the Marshall Islands and one in Greece — "are transporting oil that was effectively stolen from the Venezuelan people."

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has sought to skirt U.S. sanctions by trading with Iran, another country that's subject to certain U.S. sanctions, touting what he calls "South to South cooperation."

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The sanctions were first published by the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which added both the companies and the ships themselves to its Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN).

By sanctioning the companies that own the tanker ships, the United States can effectively block their access to international banking and to insurance for the ships.

"Theft of Venezuela’s oil assets for the benefit of the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro is unconscionable, and those that facilitate this theft risk losing access to the U.S. financial system," said Pompeo in a statement.

In May, two Greek-owned tankers were dissuaded from reaching Venezuela under threat of U.S. sanctions, but Iran has sent a flotilla of five of its own tankers to supply the oil-rich South American country with badly needed refined gasoline.

The new supply of gasoline has caused Maduro to raise the commodity's price, arguing that the old subsidized price would invite consumers from neighboring Colombia and Caribbean nations to "steal" Venezuela's supply.

Maduro announced Monday he would be traveling to Iran, in part to thank the country for the gasoline shipments and to sign cooperation agreements in other sectors.

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Opposition to the Maduro regime has become the Trump administration's premier hemispheric policy.

The embattled Venezuelan president has resisted calls to step down despite ever-increasing U.S. pressure, including an unprecedented indictment against a sitting head of state levied in March by the Department of Justice.

The United States does not formally recognize Maduro as the Venezuelan head of state, instead recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who since January 2019 has called himself interim president of Venezuela.

"Maduro’s corrupt regime is directly responsible for the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela,"  Pompeo said in the statement.

"The international community should increase pressure against the Maduro regime until it relinquishes its illegitimate hold on power. The United States will continue to increase pressure on Maduro and his enablers until a democratic transition begins," he added.