The United States has extended for one year an executive order that declares Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security, citing continued human rights violations in the South American country led by a socialist leader.
The U.S. decision will further undermine the Venezuelan government and the country’s economy, which has been battered by the steep drop in global oil prices. The executive order issued in March last year also imposed sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials.
When the U.S. first issued the order last year, President Nicolas Maduro paraded the seven officials, hailing them as “heroes” and naming national intelligence head Gustavo Gonzalez, whom Washington accuses of complicity in violence against protesters, as new interior minister.
The United States says it has no interest in hurting Venezuela’s energy sector or its broader economy, but goes on to criticize Venezuela’s persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedom, and human rights violations. The Nicolas Maduro administration is also accused of protecting corrupt officials.
In the order, President Barack Obama reiterated that the situation in Venezuela constituted an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” The United States, it seems, has been particularly stringent in its stance against Venezuela’s current administration for imprisoning political opponents.
The executive order also authorizes the Treasury Department to impose additional sanctions on officials undermining democratic process and violating human rights. “We will continue to work closely with others in the region to support greater political expression in Venezuela, and to encourage the Venezuelan government to live up to its shared commitment,” said a press release from the White House.
But many in South American describe Obama’s decision as an act of interference. In Venezuela, millions signed a petition asserting that the country was not a threat and called for the decree to be repealed.