US seeks to shut down Venezuelan oil supply to Cuba

The US Treasury has announced new sanctions against Venezuela which are intended to halt the movement of the oil PDVSA supplies to Cuba. The measure, according to US officials, aims to ‘recalibrate’ the Cuba-Venezuela relationship and to send a warning to the international shipping industry.

The new sanctions announced on 5 March involve the US Administration introducing measures against two shipping companies, 34 ships owned by PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run oil company, and a vessel used for transporting oil between Venezuela and Cuba on the basis that Venezuela’s oil resources should be controlled by the country’s self-declared interim President, Juan Guaidó. The US additionally said that its actions reflected its belief that the oil that Cuba receives is in exchange for security and intelligence support.

Announcing the sanctions, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “Cuba has been an underlying force fuelling Venezuela’s descent into crisis. Treasury is taking action against vessels and entities transporting oil, providing a lifeline to keep the illegitimate Maduro regime afloat.” He also said that the US “remains committed to a transition to democracy in Venezuela and to holding the Cuban regime accountable for its direct involvement in Venezuela’s demise.”

The Treasury listing included the names of the 34 PDSVA vessels and two companies, Ballito Bay Shipping based in Liberia, and ProPer In Management which is Greek owned. The sanctions block all US based assets of the companies and prohibit any dollar transactions involving the two entities or any of the named vessels.

In an indication of US intentions to take further measures against Cuba, the US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, said in a Tweet on 6 April that President Trump plans to intensify economic pressure on Cuba over its support for President Maduro. “The US is prepared to hold accountable any country or company that facilitates the repression of the Venezuelan people,” he Tweeted, noting also that the latest measures were “only a first step”.

Responding on Twitter, Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, rejected the new US sanctions noting that the vessels and companies involved in the transportation of fuel between Cuba and Venezuela were a legal activity covered by trade agreements. Cuba’s Foreign Minister described the decision as “Monroeist,” a refence to the Monroe Doctrine.

The US decision follows days of increased rhetoric directed at Cuba by the US Vice President, Mike Pence and other senior US Government officials.

At its peak Venezuela was supplying Cuba with as much as 100,000 barrels of oil per day in return for the provision of services. However, recent industry reports suggest that this may have now dropped to about 45,000 barrels or less. More recently Cuba has been sourcing oil from Algeria and Russia.

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