UN rights chief: US sanctions could deepen Venezuelan crisis

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights said Wednesday that recent U.S. sanctions that are aimed at toppling Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro threaten to deepen the nation’s crisis.

Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council of the U.N. that Venezuela’s “pervasive and devastating economic and social crisis” started before the U.S. first levied sanctions.

But more recent sanctions hitting the state-run oil company PDVSA could “contribute to aggravating the economic crisis, with possible repercussions on people’s basic rights and wellbeing,” Bachelet said.

The Trump administration is joined by some 50 nations around the world that back opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared he was assuming presidential powers as head of the National Assembly, vowing to oust Maduro.

The U.S. has sanctioned Maduro and dozens in his administration, but the Trump administration came down hard in late January when the U.S. Treasury targeted PDVSA, aimed at depriving Maduro of billions in hard cash from oil production.

Maduro says the U.S. is leading a coup aimed at stealing the world’s largest oil reserves, which Venezuela possesses. The socialist leader maintains support from countries such as Russia, China and Cuba.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Carrie Filipetti on Tuesday rejected earlier claims that U.S. sanctions were negatively affecting Venezuela.

“The humanitarian crisis has been ongoing for years,” said Filipetti, noting Venezuela’s hyperinflation and massive out-migration. “The sanctions are absolutely not the cause of the humanitarian crisis.”

Trump warned on Tuesday that the U.S. could impose “a lot tougher” sanctions on Venezuela if needed, repeating that “all options are open” when dealing with the crisis in Venezuela. He added that the United States is “not looking for anything other than taking care of a lot of people.”

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan opposition continued to try to rally international support.

Guaido’s wife Fabiana Rosales spoke to hundreds gathered at a Chilean university, saying Maduro’s government continues to grow weaker under mounting international pressure.

“I’m sure the regime has very little time left,” she said.

Many of those listening were exiled Venezuelans, and Rosales told them she and her husband were working to rebuild Venezuela, so they could one day soon return.