Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused the U.S. of plotting to overthrow his socialist government. On Monday, President Obama shot back with countercharges – and relations between the two countries are declining fast.
Obama levied economic sanctions on seven high-level Venezuelan officials and barred them from entering the U.S. The White House accuses them of human rights violations. Those range from ordering violence against anti-government protesters to falsifying evidence in the arrests of opposition leaders.
The Venezuelan government denies the charges. Still, Obama called on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to release all political prisoners.
The sanctions add to those approved against a number of Venezuelan officials by the U.S. Congress last December. But Obama’s new move raises the stakes by declaring the situation in Venezuela a “national security threat” for the U.S.
The U.S. denies any coup plot against Maduro. Critics say he made up the conspiracy – and is cracking down on his opponents – to distract Venezuelans from their collapsing economy. Maduro is also requiring U.S. citizens now to secure visas to visit Venezuela.