US sanctions Cuban state-run oil company over Venezuela

HAVANA, July 4th (AFP)  The United States on Wednesday sanctioned Cuba’s state-run oil firm, Cubametales, over continued importation from Venezuela amid an American embargo meant to undermine the Caracas regime.

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro “is clinging to Cuba to stay in power, buying military and intelligence operatives in exchange for oil,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The United States has long accused its nemesis Cuba of propping up Maduro through such means. The US oil embargo on Venezuela hits hard a country that has already suffered five years of recession marked by shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicines.

The new sanctions not only ban US companies from buying Venezuelan crude but also all foreign entities from using the American banking system to purchase the black gold from Caracas. All property and entities owned 50 percent or more by Cubametales in the United State or in possession of US persons will be blocked, the Treasury Department said.

Havana-based Cubametales is responsible for “guaranteeing 100 percent of imports and exports of fuels” as well as imports of additives and basic oils for lubricants into and out of the country, it added.

Venezuela has been Cuba’s top ally for nearly two decades, and also its main supplier of oil. Washington has called for Maduro to step down in favor of US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido and has demanded that Havana withdraw Cuban military personnel that it says are keeping the Venezuelan president in power.

Since coming to office in 2017, US President Donald Trump has dismantled the rapprochement with Havana begun by former US president Barack Obama. The Treasury Department meanwhile lifted sanctions from Italian-based PB Tankers after it said the company took steps to distance itself from Cubametales and the Maduro regime.