Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury Monday, Feb. 13, on allegations he is at the center of an worldwide drug trafficking operation with links to several cartels and drug lords.
In addition, the US Treasury department's Office of Foreign Assets Control also targeted 13 companies owned or controlled by Mr Lopez Bello or other parties. He is also accused of protecting other Venezuelan drug traffickers, working with the brutal Mexican cartel Los Zetas, and teaming up with Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera Barrera, also known as El Loco.
Reading a statement, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez said the accusations made against Tareck El Aissami by the U.S. Treasury Department constituted "an worldwide crime" and "an action without precedent in our bilateral relations".
El Aissami hit back in a series of tweets the next day, in which he described his sanctioning as an "imperialist aggression".
"The Venezuelan government is run by corrupt, incompetent and criminal thugs who have inflicted misery on their own people and routinely used violence to crush dissent", said U.S. Republican Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, according to the Miami Herald.
Venezuela's Foreign Ministry issued a statement Tuesday denouncing a move by the Trump administration to sanction Venezuelan Vice-President Tarek El Aissami over drug trafficking allegations.
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They also ban United States citizens from doing business with either men or the listed companies.
Earlier this month, a group of bipartisan lawmakers wrote a letter to President Trump asking for sanctions on some officials in Venezuela, and a "thorough" investigation of El Aissami in particular.
Maduro's government has frequently cast USA and opposition accusations of drug-trafficking, corruption and human rights abuses as a false pretext to justify meddling in Venezuela and a push to topple him.
Maduro is surrounding himself with cronies who have a vested interest in ensuring the political opposition does not take power, and El Aissami is just one of many individuals with such interests. Both the vice president and Bello's USA assets were frozen, which included five companies based in Florida.
The US Department of the Treasury said that El Aissami, "in his previous roles, supervised or possessed part of over 1000 kilograms of drug shipments from Venezuela, including those heading towards Mexico and the United States as their final destination".