The United States is accusing a top Venezuelan official of being a major international drug trafficker.
The Trump administration has announced sanctions against Vice President Tareck El Aissami for his reported involvement in cocaine shipments from Venezuela.
The administration barred Al Aissami from using any money or other assets under his name in the United States. The Associated Press says the government also has banned him from entering the country.
El Aissami is the highest Venezuelan official ever to face U.S. sanctions. The government has classified him as a drug kingpin – someone who directs people in the illegal drug trade.
On Tuesday, El Aissami said the Trump administration’s actions only strengthen his support for the revolution started by former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
In messages on social media, El Aissami said U.S. aggression will not stop him from doing his job of rescuing Venezuela's economy from sabotage by its conservative opponents.
Observers are unsure if the sanctions mean a tightening of U.S. policy toward Venezuela or a continuation of policies from the presidency of Barack Obama.
Under Obama, U.S. officials were careful not to demand the removal of Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, as the opposition had been seeking. Instead, the U.S. government chose to support discussions aimed at avoiding violence. The Vatican also supported this policy.
Chris Sabatini is with Latin America Goes Global, a website that follows U.S. policy toward Latin America. He said there is increasing dissatisfaction that the discussions have yet to show results.
El Aissami has been the target of U.S. law enforcement investigations for years, starting in his days as interior minister. The investigations began when falsified Venezuelan passports were found in the Middle East. Some were in the possession of suspected Hezbollah members.
A few years ago, Walid Makled, a jailed drug trafficker, told investigators he sent payments to Venezuelan officials through El Aissami's brother. He said in return for the money, officials permitted cocaine shipments through the country's ports and airports.
The U.S. announcement Monday said El Aissami had worked with drug traffickers in Mexico and Colombia to direct cocaine shipments from Venezuela.
Venezuelan businessman Samark Lopez was also sanctioned. Lopez is accused of hiding money earned from the drug trade in a number of companies and real estate in the U.S., Panama, British Virgin Islands and Venezuela.
Words in This Story
sanction – n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws
asset – n. something that is owned by a person or company
real estate – n. property consisting of buildings and land