On Monday Obama signed an executive order declaring Venezuela a national security threat.
The unilateral action targets seven Venezuelan officials who will have their property seized by the U.S. government and be denied entry into the United States. The order makes it a crime for a U.S. citizen to do business with the individuals.
The officials include the head of state intelligence service Sebin, the director of the national police, a former National Guard commander, three other military officers and a state prosecutor.
The Obama administration said the move does not target the Venezuelan economy or its energy sector. Venezuela is recognized as having the largest oil reserves in the world, surpassing Saudi Arabia.
Venezuela is the fourth-largest supplier of crude to the United States. The U.S. is the country’s top trading partner.
Declaring Venezuela a threat to the national security of the United States is the first step in starting a sanctions program against the South American country. The U.S. accuses the government of President Nicolas Maduro of violating human rights.
“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 U.S. financial systems,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.
“We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents. Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent.”
In December, the U.S. Senate passed the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, a “bill to impose targeted sanctions on persons responsible for violations of human rights of antigovernment protesters in Venezuela, to strengthen civil society in Venezuela, and for other purposes.”
In addition to a visa ban and freezing U.S. assets, the legislation increases funding for anti-government media, including the use of Voice of America, a documented CIA front.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have funded an effort to undermine the socialist government of Maduro, who replaced Hugo Chávez following his death in 2013.
“These Washington agencies… filtered more than $14 million to opposition groups in Venezuela between 2013 and 2014, including funding for their political campaigns in 2013 and for the current anti-government protests in 2014,” writes Venezuelan journalist Eva Golinger.
In 2002, The New York Times reported that the CIA was “aware” of a coup against then president Chávez.
“This method of intervention is very sophisticated and complex, as it penetrates civil society and social organizations in a very subtle way and is often either undetectable or flimsily justified by the concept of ‘promoting democracy,’ which is what the NED claims to do around the world, despite evidence to the contrary. The mere fact in Venezuela that the NED has financed exclusively anti-Chávez groups and those very same organizations that were involved in the April 2002 coup shows that ‘democracy’ is far from the NED’s intention,” Golinger writes.