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Venezuela's VP shrugs off drug sanctions as US weighs policy

Published:Wednesday | February 15, 2017 | 12:19 AM
In this Wednesday, February 1, 2017 photo, Venezuela's Vice-President Tareck El Aissami, right, is saluted by Boilivarian Army officer upon his arrival for a military parade at Fort Tiuna in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP)


Venezuela's government condemned US sanctions on the country's vice-president, saying yesterday that the Trump administration's designation of Tareck El Aissami as a major drug trafficker represented an unprecedented and "highly dangerous" infringement on the South American nation's sovereignty.

In a series of defiant messages posted on social media, El Aissami said the "miserable and defamatory aggression" only deepens his commitment to revolution started by the late Hugo Chavez and won't distract him from his job of rescuing Venezuela's crashing economy from what he called sabotage by its conservative opponents.

"They'll never be able to defeat our unbreakable resolution to be free forever," El Aissami said.

On Monday, the Trump administration froze El Aissami's US assets and banned him from entering the US for his alleged role facilitating cocaine shipments from Venezuela. El Aissami is the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to ever be sanctioned by the US and his designation as a drug kingpin is bound to ratchet up tensions between the two countries, who have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.

But whether the action signals a hardening US stance toward President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government, or is just a carry-over of policies set in motion by the Obama administration, remains to be seen, analysts said. Under Obama, the US was careful not to call for the unpopular Maduro's removal, as the opposition has been seeking, choosing instead to support a Vatican-sponsored dialogue aimed at avoiding bloodshed.

"Patience has worn out," said Chris Sabatini, editor of Latin America Goes Global, a website that tracks US policy toward the region. "There's a mounting sense of frustration, even in the State Department and on the Hill, that the dialogue is going nowhere."