US puts additional visa restrictions on Venezuelan officials

The United States announced new visa restrictions for “dozens” of officials aligned with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government and their family members, the State Department’s envoy on Venezuela said Friday.

Elliott Abrams also announced additional sanctions against six security officials “associated with the obstruction” of the delivery of humanitarian aid or “violence against those who attempted to deliver the assistance.”

At least two people were killed and many more injured in a standoff last weekend when Maduro sent troops to the border of Venezuela and Brazil to block a shipment of US aid.

Abrams would not offer any details on the visa holders, citing legal restrictions that prevent him from listing the people involved or even how many of them would be affected. The move follows earlier Trump administration steps to impose visa restrictions against other officials associated with Maduro.

‘A privileged lifestyle’

Abrams said the restrictions announced Friday were being leveled against officials who “are not welcome in the United States and neither are their family members who enjoy a privileged lifestyle at the expense of the liberty and prosperity of millions of Venezuelans.”

Abrams said the US is very concerned about interim self-declared Venezuelan President Juan Guido’s “ability to go back home” from travels abroad. Guaido has a right to return to the country “as a Venezuelan citizen, and to go back home safely,” Abrams told reporters Friday.

Guaido, who traveled to Colombia last week to meet with Vice President Mike Pence and Colombian President Ivan Duque, has also been meeting with officials from other neighboring countries in an effort to bolster support for ousting Maduro and legitimize his claim to the presidency.

At least 50 countries now recognize Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader.

‘A very large reaction’

“A number of regime officials have actually threatened him with arrest,” Abrams said. “We certainly hope he is able to go home safely.”

“We know there are dozens and dozens of other governments who share that concern,” he continued. “I think that if he were arrested on his return we would see a very large reaction on the part of the Venezuelan people and on the part of the international community.”

Abrams said he wasn’t concerned that the momentum behind Guaido, who declared himself the rightful leader of Venezuela in January, appears to be slowing. The US-educated 35-year-old has “become much more of an international figure in the last week than he’d previously been,” Abrams said, referring to Guaido’s travel and appearances with Pence.

One factor slowing progress, he said, is that “clearly the support of Russia and China … helps the regime,” but the US continues to make the point to Moscow and Beijing that they are “not helping themselves” with their support for Maduro.

Abrams expressed optimism about the long-term outcome. “Maduro won’t step down until the day he steps down,” he said. “Dictatorships come to an end. Some last for a very long time. This one in Venezuela will come to an end. We hope it comes peacefully and quickly.”