CARACAS, VENEZUELA – The Trump administration imposed sanctions Thursday on Venezuela’s military intelligence agency, which is accused of torturing to death a navy captain in its custody.
The latest move by the U.S. Treasury Department to pressure President Nicolas Maduro from power followed another round of negotiations in Barbados between Maduro’s government and opposition leaders aimed at ending Venezuela’s political crisis.
Maduro’s spokesman Jorge Rodriguez said the talks moderated by Norway that closed Wednesday resulted in a successful exchange, but gave no details and it wasn’t immediately clear if any agreements had been reached.
The U.S.-backed opposition is demanding early presidential elections, contending that Maduro’s re-election last year was invalid.
Few hold out hope for the most recent attempt at dialogue. Several rounds of talks have failed to lead to solutions as Venezuela’s political and financial crisis has deepened in recent years, sparking one of the worst migration crises in Latin America’s history.
Maduro often says he’s willing to negotiate to end hostilities and bring peace to the South American nation, bu the opposition accuses the socialist government of using talks as a stalling tactic while continuing to threaten, torture and kill political opponents.
The Vatican extended its institutional prestige in 2016, attempting to mediate a dialogue that the pope later said “went up in smoke,” placing blame on Maduro. A year later, a fresh round of talks in the Dominican Republic also fizzled with no constructive outcome.
Meanwhile, crippling U.S. oil sanctions have exacerbated a crisis marked by food, fuel and medicine shortages that sent 4 million people _ more than 10% of Venezuela’s population _ fleeing the country in recent years.
The new U.S. sanctions target Venezuela’s General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence. The sanctions appear to be largely symbolic because they prohibit Americans’ dealings with the agency, which likely has few already.
The agency arrested Capt. Rafael Acosta on suspicion of plotting to assassinate Maduro. His attorney says he showed signs of torture before dying after a court appearance.
“The politically motivated arrest and tragic death… was unwarranted and unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Mnuchin said Treasury is committed to ending the Maduro regime’s “inhumane treatment of political opponents, innocent civilians, and members of the military in an effort to suppress dissent.”
The Trump administration has sanctioned dozens of top Venezuelan officials, including Maduro, accusing them stealing from the once-wealthy nation’s coffers for personal gain while using the funds to repress critics.
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet recently published a report accusing Venezuelan officials of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and measures to erode democratic institutions.
Maduro says the United State seeks to replace him with a puppet government headed by opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido amid an economic war against his socialist country.