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US targets Cuba for propping up Maduro



By Argus

Petroleumworld 04 11 2019

The US today targeted Venezuelan oil movements to Cuba in a bid to isolate president Nicolas Maduro from a key ally.

The US Treasury imposed sanctions on the Liberian-flagged Despina Andrianna Panamax tanker that routinely shuttles Venezuelan crude to Cuba, as well as the vessel´s Liberian owner Ballito Bay Shipping and Greek operator ProPer In Management.

The action is in response to a Venezuelan opposition-controlled National Assembly decision earlier this year to stop crude shipments to Cuba, a senior US administration official said today. Sanctions were levied on 33 other vessels, mostly tugs, owned by Venezuelan national oil company PdV.

Further action is planned for "coming weeks" against Cuba, vice president Mike Pence said today in an address to a small, invitation-only crowd of Venezuelan expatriates in Houston, Texas.

"Cuba's influence has driven Venezuela's failure and the time has come to liberate Venezuela from Cuba," Pence said.

The US has warned that penalties could spread to allies Cuba and Russia, which support Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.

The administration planned to continue tightening "the financial noose" on the Maduro government, the US official said. Washington was monitoring both the supply of diluent and PdV's ongoing exports to non-US destinations. Economic sanctions remain the primary tool used by Washington, the official said.

US sanctions on PdV that began on 28 January aim to starve Maduro's government of cash. Crude exports to the US, historically Venezuela's largest customer at more than 500,000 b/d before the sanctions, fell to zero over the past three weeks, based on US Energy Information Administration estimates. The sanctions also prohibit US sales to Venezuela of naphtha that is vital to upgrading and blending the country´s extra-heavy Orinoco crude.

The US, Canada and most Latin American and EU governments no longer recognize Maduro´s presidency, and are seeking a peaceful transition headed by National Assembly head Juan Guaidó, whom they consider Venezuela´s rightful interim president.

US sanctions imposed so far seek a restoration of Venezuelan democracy, not its oil, Pence said at today´s event. Cuba and Russia are the only reason Maduro is able to resist that change.

"Cuba's leaders are the real imperialists in the western hemisphere," Pence said. Havana has been subject to a US economic embargo since the 1960s.

The administration denies it is losing momentum. The senior official, speaking after Pence's remarks, insisted US pressure is working and Maduro is losing his grip on power.

But Guaidó lacks control over other Venezuelan institutions and has not persuaded senior military personnel to switch sides. A failed effort by the opposition to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela on 23 February ended in violence at Colombia´s border .

Maduro's government has meanwhile imprisoned Guaido's chief of staff and threatened to detain Guaido . The Maduro-controlled Supreme Court and a constituent assembly have acted to strip the opposition leader of his parliamentary immunity, a move Guaidó dismisses as groundless.

"These acts of intimidation will not succeed in delaying the inevitable the peaceful restoration of democracy, stability and prosperity to the people of Venezuela," the state department said this week.

The 71,637t Despina Adrianna moved crude from Venezuela to Cuba last month, according to the State Department. The vessel is currently traveling from Cienfuegos, Cuba to PdV's Jose terminal, according to Argus vessel tracking. PdV earlier this week ordered vessels waiting to load or discharge cargoes at the terminal to switch off transponders while operating in Venezuelan waters, making them more difficult to track remotely.

Among the invited guests at the Houston gathering today was US representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, and Carlos Vecchio, Guaido's appointed US ambassador.

The election-minded Republican administration of president Donald Trump is linking the campaign against Venezuela and its Cuban patron to a pledge to block socialist policies that it claims would be ushered in by the opposition Democratic party.

Inside Venezuela, Guaidó has summoned another round of nationwide street demonstrations tomorrow morning, with the eastern Caracas marches to end at state-owned utility Corpoelec to protest ongoing power outages. Maduro has called for simultaneous pro-government marches.




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