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US working on options to pressure Cuba and Russia out of Venezuela

Nora Gamez Torres, El Nuevo Herald on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The United States is weighing options to limit Russia and Cuba from meddling in Venezuela, perceived as a stumbling block in the pursuit of a solution to the political crisis in the country, a senior State Department official told the Miami Herald.

"It's a main focus for the Department of State to get the Russians and the Cubans out of Venezuela," the official said on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about U.S. policy.

Venezuela is facing a dramatic humanitarian crisis and a political standoff between leader Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido, the head of the opposition-led National Assembly who is now recognized by the United States and more than 50 countries as the legitimate interim president.

Guaido's call for a military and popular uprising against Maduro failed on April 30, after high-ranking members of the government and the military, who were negotiating a transition government, abandoned the plan and backed Maduro.

The European Union and the Lima Group -- comprising Canada and 12 Latin American countries -- are pushing hard for talks between the opposition and the Maduro government. Members of both sides are now in Norway to explore a dialogue, and Canada is trying to get Cuba at the table.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was "working with the Cubans" to find a solution to the crisis. The United States is focused on exerting pressure on the island's government to reassess its support for Maduro, the official suggested.

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The State Department official said the administration will continue making the case to its allies of the need to put pressure on Cuba, which is believed to be providing security and counterintelligence support to Maduro. Cuba's economy heavily relies on subsidized Venezuelan oil, through an agreement struck by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez when they were leaders.

"U.S. unilateral pressure will not be sufficient, but we are working very closely with our allies," the official said about Cuba. "We need to focus much more on Cuba's sponsorship of the Maduro regime," the official said.

"We see Cuban military officers in Sebin (Venezuelan intelligence police), in the presidential guard, and we know they're having a direct role in the intimidation of the players that were directly involved in these conversations" leading to the failed uprising. "It's very challenging to decide to flip sides if you know you're under Cuban surveillance."

The Trump administration has already imposed more sanctions on Cuba. It tightened restrictions on travel and remittances to slash financial resources going to the Cuban military, and imposed sanctions on companies and vessels involved in carrying Venezuelan oil to the island.

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