FILE - Black smoke billows from the chimney of an oil refinery in Havana, Cuba, June 5, 2017.
FILE - Black smoke billows from the chimney of an oil refinery in Havana, Cuba, June 5, 2017.

The U.S. is sanctioning a Cuban business for importing Venezuelan oil as part of America's ongoing effort to force the South American country's president, Nicolas Maduro, from power.

The United States Treasury is targeting Cuban oil company Cubametales for its continued support of the Venezuelan government, according to a press release Wednesday from the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The sanctions on Cubametales "will disrupt Maduro's attempts to use Venezuela's oil as a bargaining tool to help his supporters purchase protection from Cuba," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the press release. 

FILE - A woman holds a sign that reads: "Maduro gives oil to Cuba and people die of hunger. Enough. Country do not give up" during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, Aug. 16, 2018.

The Treasury Department says state-run Cubametales guarantees all imports and exports of fuel to and from Cuba, and has maintained a close business relationship with Maduro.    

Mnuchin added, "Maduro is clinging to Cuba to stay in power, buying military and intelligence operatives in exchange for oil."

The U.S. tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba last month in reaction to what the Treasury Department called its "destabalizing role" in the region. The U.S. sanctioned Maduro in 2017. Since he was elected two years earlier, he has overseen a growing political, humanitarian and economic crisis including chronic shortages of essentials such as food and medicine.

The U.N. says the Venezuelan crisis has forced some four million people to flee the country since 2015.

Lifting sanctions

The U.S. and about 50 other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president. Guaido's campaign to oust Maduro has not been successful, despite the recognition from world leaders.

The U.S. also announced Wednesday it lifted sanctions on Italian shipping company PB Tankers. Treasury had sanctioned it in April for shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba. 

"Treasury's decision to remove restrictions on PB Tankers and unblock previously sanctioned vessels is a reminder that positive changes in behavior can result in the lifting of sanctions," Mnuchin said in a statement.