Latin America & Caribbean

US imposes travel ban on Venezuelan officials

Venezuelan national guards detain an anti-government protester during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas on 4 June, 2014
The US said Venezuelan officials were responsible for abuses during recent anti-government protests

The US is imposing travel restrictions on a number of Venezuelan officials.

Officials did not specify how many people would be affected, but said those "who have been responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses" would not be "welcome" in the US.

The Venezuelan opposition has been lobbying for sanctions since thousands of protesters were detained during anti-government protests.

At least 43 people were killed in the protests.

The victims were from both sides of the political divide.

Souring relations

Relations between the US and Venezuela took a turn for the worse on Sunday when the former head of Venezuelan military intelligence, Gen Hugo Carvajal, was released from custody in the Caribbean and given a hero's welcome in Caracas.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (right) and Mario Diaz-Balart join Venezuelan-Americans gathered on Capitol Hill in Washington on 9 May 9, 2014 to pressure the Obama administration to implement sanctions on the government of Nicolas Maduro
A group of US lawmakers have been pushing for sanctions for months

Gen Carvajal had been detained on the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba over US accusations of drug-trafficking activities.

The US Treasury said he had been protecting drug shipments by Colombian Farc rebels.

He was released after Venezuela claimed he had diplomatic immunity because he had been appointed as Venezuela's consul in Aruba.

The US said his release was "deeply disappointing" and accused Venezuela of threatening Aruba and the Netherlands into freeing Gen Carvajal.

In a statement released on Wednesday, US state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the travel restrictions were in response to "arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force" by Venezuelan officials as they tried to contain growing anti-government protest.

'Imperialist bully'

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets in February and March in protest at skyrocketing inflation, high crime rates and shortages of some basic staples.

An anti-government protester covers his face with a US flag during a protest march in Caracas on 10 May, 2014
President Maduro accuses the opposition of trying to overthrow the government at the bidding of the US

Key opposition figures behind the protests were arrested and have been charged with inciting violence.

Thousands of protesters were detained, many of them have since been released but there have been allegations they were intimidated, beaten and even tortured.

The Venezuelan government says it is investigating dozens of members of the security forces in connection with the allegations.

The demonstrations have since become smaller and less frequent but tensions in the deeply divided country remain high.

President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to launch a coup against his government at the behest of "the imperialist US force".

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