November 5, 2019 / 3:36 PM / a month ago

U.S. issues some exemptions to Venezuela sanctions, targets more officials

WASHINGTON/CARACAS (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Tuesday issued licenses allowing some U.S. companies to pay taxes in Venezuela in spite of a broad U.S. sanctions regime, but also issued more sanctions on top officials in President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

The exemptions made clear that payments to the government for taxes, import duties, and other transactions “necessary and ordinarily incident to such persons’ day-to-day operations” would be permitted despite an Aug. 5 executive order banning U.S. companies from dealing with the Venezuelan government.

Washington has imposed the sanctions as part of its effort to force the resignation of Maduro, a socialist who has overseen an economic collapse and stands accused of corruption and human rights violations.

Critics say the measures have hurt ordinary Venezuelans and the country’s private sector, however, while Maduro has retained power thanks to backing from allies like Cuba, Russia and China.

Private companies - from software provider Adobe Inc to Florida banks to Major League Baseball - have said they were not comfortable engaging in normal business activity in Venezuela or involving Venezuelan individuals, given the risk that some transactions could involve state entities.

Washington said on Tuesday that Venezuelan public employees and contractors who work at hospitals, schools and universities should not have their U.S. assets blocked under the measure.

The exemption licenses were issued alongside new sanctions on five Venezuelan security officials and political figures.

The officials, who have previously been targeted by the European Union or Canada, have been linked to violence against opposition protesters and to corruption under Maduro’s socialist government, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Maduro frequently blames a U.S. “blockade” for the country’s economic woes.

“Treasury is identifying high-level officials acting on behalf of the oppressive regime of former Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, which continues to engage in egregious levels of corruption and human rights abuses,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The five blacklisted individuals include Remigio Ceballos Ichaso, the top operational official in Venezuela’s armed forces.

The others are Nestor Neptali Blanco Hurtado, a National Guard major; Secretary General of the National Defense Council Jose Adelino Ornelas Ferreira; Pedro Miguel Carreno Escobar, a deputy of the government-controlled National Constituent Assembly; and Carlos Alberto Calderon Chirinos, an intelligence official.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Lisa Lambert and Luc Cohen; editing by Matt Spetalnick, Bernadette Baum and Sonya Hepinstall

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