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World

U.S. Hits Venezuela With Sanctions Over Crackdown On Protesters

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

There were no Senate objections to some tough moves President Obama is taking against Venezuela. Yesterday, the president declared Venezuela a threat to national security and imposed sanctions on members of Venezuela's government. John Otis has this report.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: The sanctions are a response to a violent crackdown last year against antigovernment protesters in Venezuela that left 43 people dead. Seven Venezuelan officials implicated in human rights abuses were banned from entering the United States and had their U.S. assets frozen. The designation of Venezuela as a national security threat was a formality required to impose the sanctions, but it enraged Venezuelan officials. President Nicolas Maduro recalled his top envoy to Washington, a move that followed his decision last week to expel most U.S. diplomats from Caracas.

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OTIS: Meanwhile, average Venezuelans are dealing with galloping inflation and shortages of many consumer goods. These people are waiting in a line as long as a football field to buy milk, one of the hardest items to find. Maduro constantly blames his country's problems on U.S. meddling. David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, says the sanctions may actually help Maduro.

DAVID SMILDE: In the midst of this, the United States comes forward with these sanctions and now declares Venezuela a threat to national security. I mean, it fits absolutely perfectly within the narrative of the Maduro government.

OTIS: For example, here's National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello firing up a crowd yesterday, saying the sanctions would lead to U.S. bombing raids.

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DIOSDADO CABELLO: (Foreign language spoken).

OTIS: "Do you think it's a good idea for North American imperialism to begin bombing Venezuelan territory?" Cabello said, "I don't, but that's Obama's plan."

Still, Alejandro Velasco, who teaches Latin American studies at New York University, points out that Venezuela remains the fourth-largest supplier of imported oil to the United States.

ALEJANDRO VELASCO: The fact is that it remains tied to the United States by way of its oil. And especially with the collapse of the oil prices, Venezuela more than ever needs a trusted nearby buyer, and that has always been the United States.

OTIS: In other words, there are consequences for both sides if relations continue to crumble. For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Caracas, Venezuela. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.