The U.S. sanctioned four companies it says transport much of the 50,000 barrels of oil that Venezuela provides to Cuba each day in an effort to punish the island nation for its support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The companies and nine vessels they own account for perhaps half of the oil that Venezuela sends to Cuba in exchange for the social, intelligence and strategic support Havana provides Maduro, according to a senior official speaking on condition of anonymity. The U.S. is determined to sever the U.S.-Cuba economic relationship, the official said.
National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Friday: “We are going to keep applying pressure not only to ensure Cuba’s regime doesn’t get paid with oil for its continued military support of Maduro, but to impose a high cost on Cuba for its subversion of democracy in Venezuela.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said of the move, “Maduro relies on the support he receives from the Cuban military and intelligence services to retain his hold on power because he does not have the support of the Venezuelan people.”
The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control named three companies based in Monrovia, Liberia -- Jennifer Navigation Ltd., Lima Shipping Corp. and Large Range Ltd., along with a fourth based in Italy, PB Tankers S.P.A. Among the vessels named were Nedas, New Hellas and S-Trotter.
A week ago, the Trump administration sanctioned two companies whose ships it said were carrying oil from Venezuela to Cuba. The senior official said they represented a small portion of the shipments whereas the new sanctions cover a much more substantial share, perhaps half of the supply.
Thousands of Cubans are embedded through the upper echelons of the Venezuelan government guarding Maduro and guiding intelligence and military leaders. Trump officials believe their presence, and the fear they generate, are keeping military commanders and other senior officials from abandoning Maduro for Juan Guaido, the interim president recognized by more than 50 nations led by the U.S. since January.
The Cuban-Venezuelan relationship has been strong for two decades. For many years, Venezuela provided 100,000 barrels of oil a day but that is now down to half that. The opposition represented by Guaido, that has no political power, voted in the neutered National Assembly last month to end all oil shipments to Cuba. Guaido has asked the U.S. to help through sanctions, the senior official said.
Cuba has denied that it has undue influence in Venezuela or that its officials play a role in intelligence and the military. It has also vowed to stand by Maduro against U.S. attempts to drive him from power, a position shared by Russia, China, Turkey and Iran.