US targets sanctions on shipping companies for bringing Venezuela oil to Cuba

HAVANA, May 10th (AFP) The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on two shipping companies for delivering Venezuelan oil to ally Cuba in what it called a response to actions against opposition lawmakers in Caracas.

The Treasury Department said it was taking aim at the Monsoon Navigation Corp., headquartered in the Marshall Islands, and Liberian-based Serenity Maritime Ltd. for owning ships involved in oil transfers that took place through March.

The United States accuses its longtime nemesis Cuba of propping up President Nicolas Maduro by sending security forces, with Venezuela paying its ally back through oil.

“The US will take further action if Cuba continues to receive Venezuelan oil in exchange for military support,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The Treasury Department said that the sanctions, which will block any US holdings of the two companies, was a “direct response” to actions against members of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly.

Edgar Zambrano, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, is being held in military prison two days after his arrest.

He and nine other opposition lawmakers have been indicted for treason and conspiracy over backing a failed uprising against Maduro that took place at the end of April.

The United States, along with most Latin American and European powers, considers Maduro illegitimate after a re-election married by irregularities.

The leftist firebrand presides over a crumbling economy in which the local currency has become virtually worthless, and several million Venezuelans have fled the country.

But the US-backed, sanctions-led campaign to install National Assembly head Juan Guaido as interim president has faltered, with most of the military still backing Maduro.