16:18 GMT07 August 2020
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    The US slapped tough sanctions on Venezuela and seized or froze billions of dollars' worth of state assets abroad in early 2019, in a bid to topple the democratically elected government of President Nicolas Maduro and replace him with self-proclaimed 'interim president' Juan Guaido.

    Moscow is calling on the United States to immediately scrap its unilateral sanctions targeting Venezuela's economic activities abroad.

    "Washington needs to completely abandon its policy of unilateral prohibitive measures blocking Caracas's foreign economic activity and to allow the Venezuelan government to freely acquire medicines and essential goods," Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexei Zaitsev said Thursday.

    "Only after this is done can the Venezuelan people effectively fight the [coronavirus] pandemic," the spokesman added.

    The Foreign Ministry statement comes amid an ongoing US effort to ramp up the pressure on Latin American nation. Earlier this month, Washington slapped new sanctions on former officials from Venezuela's electrical power sector, and on a pair of businessmen it alleges were involved in an illicit scheme to provide financial support to the Maduro government. Before that, US officials sought to stop Iranian fuel deliveries to Venezuela, and extended sanctions targeting Venezuelan energy giant PDVSA to prevent a shareholder takeover of its US-based petroleum refiner and retailer subsidiary Citgo.

    Caracas promised to raise the issue of US sanctions on Venezuela's oil trade at the International Criminal Court in The Hague in May, and has accused the Trump administration of 'criminal' aggression against the Latin American nation with its sanctions policies.

    The US and its Latin American and European allies ramped up sanctions pressure against Venezuela significantly in January 2019, after opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself the country's 'interim president' and called for new elections, just weeks after President Maduro was sworn in for a second term in office. These sanctions have included restrictions on Venezuelan state oil giant PDVSA, and the threat of secondary sanctions against any nation which continues to do business with Caracas.

    US pressure has also included asset freezes and seizures on up to $116 billion in Venezuelan state assets overseas, with authorities in Caracas accusing Washington and Guaido of dipping into and siphoning off part of these funds for their own use.

    Last month, US Venezuela special representative Elliott Abrams told reporters that the US would be unfreezing $20 million in Venezuelan assets to provide these funds to the Pan-American Health Organization and other aid groups.

    Commenting on these plans during Thursday's briefing, Zaitsev suggested that it was "noteworthy that the unblocking of funds is presented in the mainstream media as the sole merit of Juan Guaido. Given that he himself welcomed the illegal sanctions and the seizure of Venezuelan funds abroad, we consider his current attempt to earn domestic political points on the suffering of the Venezuelan people as cynical at the very least."

    The increased sanctions pressure since 2019 has cost the Venezuelan economy tens of billions of dollars in export earnings and lost revenues, with losses exacerbated by the global economic and health consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the recent US pressure is just an escalation of a sanctions campaign going back nearly a decade. In February 2019, researchers at the Latin American Geopolitical Strategic Centre (CELAG) calculated that the US-led financial blockade against Venezuela cost the nation between $260 billion and $360 billion in lost revenues between 2013 and 2017.

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