Hours after US President Barack Obama ordered tough sanctions against Venezuelan officials for human rights violations, Nicolás Maduro, the country’s leader, announced Monday night he would “seek greater powers” from his own lawmakers to “fight US imperialism.”
“Obama decided to personally carry out the overthrow of my government and intervene in Venezuela,” Maduro said during a televised address, in which he also repeated prior accusations that Washington is funding the opposition in his country.
The only way to solve Venezuela’s problems is through real dialogue — not by silencing critics”
The Venezuelan leader didn’t say what additional powers he would seek from the National Assembly, where his United Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) holds a majority. But opposition leaders predicted that he would use them to quash dissent.
“Obama today took the most aggressive, unfair and poisonous step that the US has ever taken against Venezuela,” Maduro said in a fiery, three-hour speech.
Earlier, Obama signed an executive order blocking the entry to the United States of seven top Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights violations and public corruption. The order also freezes all their US assets. He called the matter “a threat to national security.”
“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of US financial systems,” read a White House statement.
Obama was acting on the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act, which he signed last year, the White House said.
A senior administration official told reporters that the move “does not target the Venezuelan people.”
The president also called for the release of “all political prisoners, including dozens of students, opposition leader Leopoldo López and mayors Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma.”
“The only way to solve Venezuela’s problems is through real dialogue – not detaining opponents and attempting to silence critics.”
López and Ceballos, who is the mayor of San Cristóbal, were arrested in February 2014 following violent demonstrations that took place across the country. Caracas Mayor Ledezma was detained last month after Maduro accused him of conspiring against his government.
Washington has already issued travel bans against 56 Venezuelan officials and their family members but, citing visa confidentiality laws, has stopped short of naming them.
This time, however, it identified the seven officials on the list, including Gustavo Enrique González López, director general of the National Intelligence Service (Sebin), and Antonio José Benavides Torres, commander in the Bolivarian National Armed Forces.
Venezuelan officials reacted to Washington’s announcement even before Maduro’s speech
During his address, Maduro praised González López and appointed him minister of Interior, Justice and Peace. Afterwards, the major general rose from his seat and gave a military salute to Maduro.
The United States has accused González López of being responsible for violence and human rights abuse against anti-government protesters during the nationwide demonstrations that took place in February 2014.
Venezuelan officials reacted to Washington’s announcement even before Maduro’s speech. National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello, who is reportedly under investigation by the US Justice Department on drug trafficking allegations, called on PSUV members to prepare themselves in case of a US attack.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez called Venezuelan Chargé d’affaires Maximiliem Arvelaiz to return home from Washington for consultations. The United States and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.