(El Nuevo Herald, Nora Gámez Torres, 27.Nov.2019) — Embattled leader Nicolás Maduro sent about $900 million in oil to Cuba this year despite the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, a U.S. top diplomat told reporters on Wednesday.
The U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said that Maduro has the money to alleviate the shortages of food and medicine in that country but has preferred to pay debts to Russia and China and continues sending oil to the Cuban government, his main ally in the region.
“The regime paid the Russian oil company Rosneft over a billion and a half dollars to reduce debt,” he said. Maduro also sent China just under $3 billion worth of oil and $900 million to Cuba. “That’s about $5 billion that could have been spent on food and medicine but was not,” he said.
Maduro, whom the U.S. no longer considers the legitimate president of Venezuela, also signed contracts for $209 million in military purchases from Russia, including Sukhoi fighter jets and military helicopters, Abrams added.
The State Department official also defended the U.S. sanctions policy to press for Maduro’s exit and stressed that the sanctions do not include bans on the sale of medicines and food. According to the diplomat, the Maduro government has bought food in the United States this year but “not enough” to meet the needs of the population.
“We think we have the right policy. We think — we are confident we have the support of the Venezuelan people,” he said.
The U.S. has allocated more than $600 million to help those affected by the crisis in Venezuela, but most food and medical aid has not been able to enter the country.
The Trump administration accuses the Cuban government of supporting Maduro with security and intelligence services, but the Venezuelan leader has remained in control of the country, despite the challenge of a parallel presidency led by the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó.
The United States has sanctioned two Cuban companies, as well as shipping companies involved in oil shipments from Venezuela to Cuba. In mid-September, Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel announced austerity measures to cope with an acute shortage of fuel. But Maduro has found ways to continue sending oil, and he is believed to be storing fuel on the island.
The official also announced that the signatory countries of the Rio Treaty — a regional mutual defense agreement — will meet on Dec. 3 in Bogotá to consider imposing visa restrictions on several dozen officials linked to Maduro.