US sanctions Cuba's Castro for supporting Venezuela's Maduro

The sanctions block Raul Castro and his immediate family from entering the United States, Pompeo says.

    Raul Castro participates in the Permanent Working Committees of the National Assembly of the People's Power in Havana [Jorge Beltran/AFP]
    Raul Castro participates in the Permanent Working Committees of the National Assembly of the People's Power in Havana [Jorge Beltran/AFP]

    The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on Cuba's Raul Castro, along with his children, as it continues to pressure its long-time foe for supporting the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

    "As First Secretary of Cuba's Armed Forces, Castro is responsible for Cuba's actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela through violence, intimidation, and repression," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement, reiterating the Trump administration's position that Maduro is illegitimate.

    "In concert with Maduro's military and intelligence officers, members of the Cuban security forces have been involved in gross human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela, including torture," Pompeo added.

    The US, along with about 50 other countries, support Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who in January invoked the constitution to declare himself interim president, calling Maduro's 2018 re-election illegitimate.

    Maduro, who maintains the support of Cuba, Russia and China, as well as Venezuela's state institutions, accuses Guaido and the US of attempting a coup. 

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    The US sanctions will block Castro and his immediate family from entering the US, Pompeo said. In addition to Castro, the US State Department also sanctioned his children, Alejandro Castro Espin, Deborah Castro Espin, Mariela Castro Espin, and Nilsa Castro Espin.

    Pompeo also accused Castro, who is considered Cuba's most powerful figure, of overseeing "a system that arbitrarily detains thousands of Cubans and currently holds more than 100 political prisoners".

    The Cuban government did not immediately comment on the sanctions.

    It was the latest in a series of punitive measures that the Trump administration has taken against Washington's old Cold War foe, steadily rolling back the historic opening to Havana under Trump's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

    Last week, the US expelled two of Cuba's United Nations diplomats, citing "influence operations".

    Washington has made it clear that a key objective of its pressure campaign is to force Cuba to abandon Maduro, something Havana has said it will never do.

    Trump has stopped short of breaking off diplomatic relations with Cuba restored by Obama in 2015 after more than five decades of hostility.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies