Top Story — President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Monday implementing sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials, freezing their U.S. assets and banning them from entering the United States, or doing business with U.S. citizens. The seven officials named in the executive order stand accused of human rights violations and anti-democratic actions, in particular related to their role in clamping down anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela last year.
The executive order signed by President Obama states that it does not intend to damage Venezuela’s economy or target the country’s citizens. Rather, it is intended for “persons involved in or responsible for the erosion of human rights guarantees,” which include the persecution of political opponents, limiting press freedom, use of violence against protesters and arbitrary arrests. The order also targets top government officials suspected of “significant public corruption.”
In a statement released to accompany the order signed by President Obama, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said, “We are committed to defending human rights and advancing democratic governance in Venezuela through the use of financial sanctions.”
Monday’s executive order citing seven Venezuelan officials is the latest development in the months-long effort by the U.S. government to implement sanctions against the country. In December, President Obama signed a law enabling him to freeze the U.S. assets of Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses against anti-government protesters, as well as banning such officials from entering the United States.
Relations between the United States and Venezuela have rapidly deteriorated in the last few months. On March 3, Venezuela gave the United States two weeks to cut the number of U.S. diplomats currently operating in the country from 100 to 17. The two countries have failed to exchange ambassadors for over five years.
Headlines from the Western Hemisphere
- Four people were arrested Monday after the mayor of the Mexican city of Matamoros was attacked in his armored SUV on Sunday night amid a surge of violence in recent weeks in northeastern Mexico.
- “Torture and ill treatment during detention are generalized in Mexico, and occur in a context of impunity,” said the U.N special rapporteur on torture in a report presented before the Human Rights Commission on Monday, implicating the armed forces and police at every level in the country.
- Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla gave a televised address on Monday in an effort to quell public skepticism of a new ta plan Amid protests of a new tax reform in Puerto Rico that seeks to deal with the U.S. territory’s more than $70 billion of debt, amid daily protests.
- North American Soccer League team the New York Cosmos will play against the Cuban national team in Havana in June, the first professional U.S. sports team to play there in 16 years.
- Honduran archeologists are calling into question claims by National Geographic that a team of explorers from the organization recently discovered the long-fabled “white city,” countering that they may have instead discovered a previously unknown civilization.
- Colombia’s largest oil producer, the state-run Ecopetrol, has said that it can continue producing if a planned strike by the central oil workers’ union goes ahead as threatened, a practice which would be illegal under Colombian law because oil production is considered an essential service.
- Peruvian NGOs are protesting what they say is a plan by business interests to slash some 23,000 hectares of trees in order to harvest palm oil, a practice that is on the rise in Peru although it remains more prominent in neighboring Ecuador and Colombia.
- Chile’s foreign minister on Monday said he wants to get past a diplomatic row with Peru over the latter’s complaint it was spied on by Chile, which has resulted in the withdrawal by both countries of their ambassadors.
- Two helicopters collided with each other in Argentina on Monday, resulting in the deaths of at least ten people including cast and crew members from a French television show.
- Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed a law on Monday which imposes harsh penalties on those who commit domestic violence, or violence against women due to their gender.