US raises pressure on Maduro via sanctions, aid
The steps are part of a wider effort by the United States to undermine President Nicholas Maduro
The United States ratcheted up pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Friday by sanctioning some of his top security officials and the head of the state oil company, and unveiling plans to airlift over 200 tons of aid to the Colombian border.
The US Treasury said it sanctioned PDVSA chief Manuel Quevedo, three top intelligence officials and Rafael Bastardo, who US officials say is the head of a national police unit responsible for dozens of extrajudicial killings carried out in nighttime raids on Mr Maduro's behalf.
Separately, the US State Department said on Friday it was working with the Pentagon and US aid agency to fly humanitarian assistance on Saturday to Cucuta, Colombia, on the Venezuelan border.
The steps are part of a wider effort by the United States to undermine Mr Maduro, whose 2018 election it views as illegitimate and whose government it has disavowed, and to strengthen opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaido. Mr Quevedo said on Twitter the Venezuelan officials were being sanctioned for guaranteeing peace, building homes and condemning the "coup and military plan of the United States, its allies" and Mr Guaido. US military aircraft were expected to deliver more than 200 tons of humanitarian aid to the border town, a US official said. The United States already has pre-positioned some relief supplies in Colombia and is coordinating with Mr Guaido to mobilise aid for Venezuelans, a State Department spokeswoman said.
It was unclear whether any of the US aid being ferried to Colombia would reach Venezuelans.
Mr Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse in the oil-rich country that has left millions struggling to buy food and medicine and fuelled an unprecedented migration crisis in the region, has refused to allow supplies in.
"This man Maduro has created a humanitarian crisis," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Reykjavik. "As soon as this weekend we will continue to deliver massive humanitarian assistance. Hopefully Mr Maduro will allow that in to his country."
The aid convoy dispatched by the United States and Colombia arrived in Cucuta last week, where it is being held in warehouses.
US President Donald Trump's national security adviser John Bolton worked to undermine Mr Maduro on Friday, saying economic and political pressure was squeezing his top government officials and claiming without offering any evidence that "a clear majority, maybe almost all of them" were talking to the opposition about supporting Mr Guaido or leaving the country.
Mr Bolton appeared to confirm reports that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza met in New York with US special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams, and suggested Mr Maduro should ask himself what they talked about.
Mr Bolton also said he thought "Russia and China are hedging" their support for Mr Maduro because of concern about the Mr Maduro government's indebtedness to Moscow and Beijing.
Updated: February 16, 2019 05:43 AM