Tillerson's tour raises possibility of embargo on Venezuela, cuts to 'war on drugs' aid

Cuban officials criticize U.S. policy on Venezuela

By Hatzel Vela - Cuba Correspondent, Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer
Headline Goes Here Keith Lane/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's tour in Latin America has raised the possibility of a U.S. embargo on Venezuela and cuts on the aid the U.S. sends to strategic partners in the U.S. government's war on drugs. 

President Donald Trump said he wanted to stop aid for counter-narcotics programs to countries that didn't stem the flow of cocaine to the U.S. Most of the cocaine that makes it to the hands of U.S. consumers is coming from Colombia and Peru.

"I look at these countries, I look at the numbers we send them and we send them massive aid, and they are pouring drugs into our country and they are laughing at us," Trump said Friday.  

After visits to Mexico, Panama and Argentina last week, Tillerson is in Peru Monday, and he plans to visit Colombia on Tuesday and Jamaica, a growing cocaine trafficking hub, on Wednesday before returning to Washington, D.C. 

Tillerson told reporters in Buenos Aires Sunday that the U.S. could also ban Venezuelan oil imports and restrict exports. Authorities believe the oil-rich country's military has been protecting the transit of Colombian cocaine on its way to the U.S.

"One of the aspects of considering sanctioning oil is what effect will it have on the Venezuelan people, and is it a step that might bring this to an end, because not doing anything, to not bring this to an end is also asking the Venezuelan people to suffer for a much longer time," Tillerson said during a news conference with his Argentine counterpart.

An embargo on Venezuela could hurt U.S. oil refiners. Cuban officials referred to Tillerson's comments as arrogant and dismissive. Russia and China continue to expand their presence in Cuba and Venezuela. Tillerson has labeled them both as "imperial powers."

Tillerson said former U.S. President James Monroe's 1823 statement forewarning imperial powers against interfering in the affairs of Latin American states and U.S. expansion "is as relevant today as it was the day it was written." 

Cuba's Foreign Ministry chief for U.S. Affairs, Josefina Vidal, condemned Tillerson's adoption of  The Monroe Doctrine, which remains a tenet of U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. position on Venezuela.  Trump's administration has already issued individual sanctions to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and a list of his allies asking them "to return to the constitution." 

Venezuelans who have found refuge in South Florida have asked U.S. officials to pressure Maduro to step down and allow multiparty elections.

Maduro, who has been in power since 2013, continues to accuse the U.S. of attacking his Socialist government and exiled Venezuelans in South Florida of plotting against him.  He is campaigning for another term in office after the Constituent Assembly -- made up of only Socialist Party members who support him -- called for elections in April. 

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