Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela crisis: US bans top officials from entering country

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (L) shake hands during their meeting in the Kremlin Image copyright EPA
Image caption President Maduro was in Moscow where he met Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Donald Trump has banned senior Venezuelan officials and their families from entering the US, the latest effort aimed at forcing President Nicolás Maduro to step down.

Venezuelans were suffering "a tragedy of historic proportions" but they would be "freed", Mr Trump told Latin American leaders meeting in New York.

The US recognises opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president.

Mr Maduro has accused the US of trying to orchestrate a coup to oust him.

The US is one of more than 50 nations that have given its backing to Mr Guaidó, the head of Venezuela's National Assembly who declared himself president in January arguing that Mr Maduro's re-election last year was fraudulent.

The declaration signed by Mr Trump targeted Venezuelan officials with the rank of vice minister or above, military members with a rank of colonel or above and members of the pro-Maduro legislature, the Constituent Assembly.

The ban also applied to anyone acting "on behalf of or in support of" Mr Maduro and those enjoying "financial benefit" from the government and their immediate family members.

US officials have previously defended these measures as being effective because "these people's wives can't shop in the US", Reuters news agency reports.

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Media captionThe four countries interested in the presidential battle

In the meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, President Trump told Latin American presidents who also recognise Mr Guaidó that they were part of a "historic coalition".

"Venezuelans are starving and they're dying from lack of medicine, doctors, help," Mr Trump said, adding that socialism had "destroyed" the oil-rich country and that the US was "doing everything [it] can to isolate Maduro and his cronies".

The Venezuelan government has not commented.

Last month, the US imposed sweeping sanctions that froze all property of the government in the US, and blocked American firms doing business with Venezuela.

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Media captionThe Displaced: Venezuelans searching for peace in Trinidad

Meanwhile, Mr Maduro met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. He said talks between the government and the opposition were "very important" and that "we've proved that together we can overcome any difficulties".

Recent discussions hosted by Barbados and mediated by Norway stalled after President Maduro denounced the opposition for backing the US sanctions.

Russia alongside China, Cuba and a handful of other countries - as well as the powerful Venezuelan military - have backed Mr Maduro.

Venezuela is suffering one of the worst economic crises in history with a quarter of its 30 million population in need of aid, according to the UN. More than four million Venezuelans have left the country over the past few years.

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