WASHINGTON - The United States hit Venezuela with a new round of sanctions on Tuesday, targeting the crisis-battered country's ties with Cuba, which supports Nicolas Maduro in Caracas.
"Maduro's Cuban benefactors provide a lifeline to the regime and enable its repressive security and intelligence apparatus," U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The move is the latest US escalation of sanctions aimed at undermining support for Maduro, who is grappling with a political and economic crisis that the United Nations says has left a quarter of Venezuela's 30 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
The new sanctions hit four companies — three registered in Panama and one in Cyprus — that ship oil from Venezuela to Cuba, and names four specific oil tankers.
"Venezuela's oil belongs to the Venezuelan people and should not be used as a bargaining tool to prop up dictators and prolong the usurpation of Venezuelan democracy," Mnuchin said.
The U.S. Treasury, which calls Maduro's government "the former illegitimate regime," has tightened the sanctions grip on state oil company PDVSA which provides most of the country's resources.
The companies hit by the latest sanctions are Caroil Transport Marine Ltd., which is based in Cyprus, and Panama-based Trocana World Inc., Tovase Development Corp and Bluelane Overseas SA.
They will have any U.S.-based assets frozen and are prohibited from using the American financial system or doing business in the United States, barring them from much of the global financial system.