U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams warned Wednesday that U.S. sanctions on the South American nation would not cease until "Venezuela recovers its democracy."
Referring to sanctions imposed Tuesday by Washington against a subsidiary of Russian energy firm Rosneft for allegedly helping to skirt sanctions on Venezuela, Abrams defined the decision as "one step" in a telephone briefing.
He said the intention of the U.S. is to speak with major consumers of Venezuelan oil about reducing consumption.
The sanctioning of Rosneft Trading S.A., a Switzerland-incorporated subsidiary that the State and Treasury departments said serves as an oil brokerage firm, was done because it operates in Venezuela's oil sector, which the U.S. sanctioned in January 2019.
"There will be other steps. There will be other targets. There will be more sanctions. The pressure will not cease until Venezuela once again is able to recover its democracy," he said.
Abrams stressed that the goal of sanctions is to "force the regime in Caracas into doing something that it has not yet wanted to do, which is to negotiate a new, fair and free presidential election that would allow Venezuela to emerge from its current crisis."
Turning to sanctions on Venezuela's state-run oil company PDVSA, he emphasized that the company has "enormous debts."
"When frozen accounts are unfrozen, what I think will happen is that the creditors will immediately try to jump on those accounts to get their money back.
"So if the money were unfrozen, it is not at all clear that it would go to the interim government rather than being seized or refrozen to benefit commercial creditors," Abrams said.
The South American nation has been under severe U.S. sanctions, economic and diplomatic, for more than a year as Washington recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate ruler instead of elected President Nicolas Maduro.
Speaking about Guaido's return to Venezuela last Tuesday after his international tour aimed at ousting Maduro, Abrams called the seizure of his uncle at the airport -- charged with terrorism for carrying explosives on a plane that carried Guaido -- "is an obvious and vicious effort to attack Guaido's closest advisors and his family."
The charge has "been completely denied by the airline, TAP, and by the president and foreign minister of Portugal."
Despite defying a court-imposed travel ban, Guaido was not arrested upon his return to Venezuela. But authorities arrested the uncle of the opposition leader after he arrived at Caracas International Airport, accusing him of bringing explosive material into the country.
On Monday, Venezuela's decided to suspend flights of Portuguese TAP Air for 90 days after Caracas accused it of transporting Guaido on a plane with explosives back to Venezuela from Lisbon.
Since the beginning of 2019, Venezuela has been embroiled in political unrest as Maduro and Guaido engage in a power battle amid a dire economic crisis in the Latin American nation.
By Beyza Binnur Donmez