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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

U.S. asks Organization of American States to suspend Venezuela

Vice President Mike Pence applauds during a speech at the Organization of American States, Monday, May 7, 2018 in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
By Luis Alonso Lugo Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The United States on Monday asked the countries of the Western Hemisphere to suspend Venezuela from the 35-nation Organization of American States.

Vice President Mike Pence also urged member states to cut off Venezuelan leaders from their financial systems and to enact visa restrictions.

“To uphold the democracy and freedom, we call the members of the OAS to suspend Venezuela from the Organization of American States,” said Pence, the first U.S. vice president to address the group since Al Gore in 1994.

Venezuela, which in April 2017 started a two-year process to abandon the Washington-based OAS, did not send an official to hear Pence’s speech and did not react immediately.

Pence asked Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to suspend the May 20 presidential election, which he called “no more than fraud and sham.” Pence also urged Maduro to “open Venezuela to international aid, and do it now”.

Venezuela has refused to allow international aid, alleging that would amount to foreign intervention. The South American nation also denies there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis, even though thousands of Venezuelans have fled to other countries in the region.

Pence announced during the speech that the Trump administration designated a former official of the Venezuelan intelligence service, two of his aides and 20 companies under their control as narcotics traffickers.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said Pedro Luis Martin Olivares was indicted in 2015 by a grand jury in Florida for willfully conspiring to distribute a controlled substance into the United States and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance on board an aircraft registered in the United States.

Additionally, OFAC imposed sanctions on Walter Alexander Del Nogal Marquez and Mario Antonio Rodriguez Espinoza for assisting Martin and on 20 companies in Venezuela and Panama that are owned or controlled by those three individuals.

The action freezes any of their assets in the U.S. or any assets held by people in the U.S.

Those sanctioned Monday are in addition to the dozens of current and former Venezuelan officials the U.S. already has targeted.

They include Vice President Tareck El Aissami for alleged involvement in international drug trafficking. The U.S. also has imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela at a time when it’s seeking to refinance a huge international debt.