WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States (US) criminalised transactions with Venezuelan flag carrier Conviasa, saying it wanted to pressure Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro to cede power.
Under the new sanctions, anyone in the US will be banned from any transactions with Conviasa, which stands for Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronauticas y Servicios.
“This action increases pressure on Maduro to negotiate seriously and open a path out of the crisis through a transitional government that will lead to free and fair presidential elections,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
“We call on the international community to step up pressure on Maduro and further isolate him and his corrupt associates and other malign entities,” he said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in justifying the sanctions, said that Maduro has relied on the airline “to shuttle corrupt regime officials around the world to fuel support for its anti-democratic efforts”.
Conviasa faced years of upheaval as Venezuela’s economy collapses. It was banned in 2012 from flying to the European Union (EU) on safety grounds and in 2017 temporarily suspended all international service as it lacked foreign currency to buy insurance.
It mostly flies domestic routes but its website showed that it also flies to Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama.
It recently announced that it would start service to Damascus in March, where President Bashar al-Assad is also under sweeping sanctions over Syria’s brutal civil war. The Treasury Department said it did not intend to prevent Venezuelans from travelling as other airlines are not affected.
Carriers that still fly to Venezuela include Air France, Turkish Airlines, Spanish carrier Iberia, Portugal’s TAP and Panamanian airline Copa.
Washington last August already blocked any assets that Conviasa may have in the US.
The latest sanctions come days after Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido, considered interim president by most Western and Latin American countries, visited Washington and received vows of support from US President Donald Trump.
Despite a year of US pressure including sanctions, Maduro remains in power and enjoys the support of the military as well as Russia and China.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on an official visit to Caracas, slammed US sanctions against Venezuela as “illegal” and blamed them for the “crisis in the Venezuelan economy”.