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VENEZUELA’S president and foreign minister have vowed to defend their country’s freedom after Washington threatened an oil embargo.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the threat against imports and refining of Caracas’s dominant export yesterday as he visited the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires on the latest leg of his Latin American and Caribbean tour.
He said Washington wants “free, fair and verifiable” presidential elections, which Venezuela’s new national constituent assembly has called for April.
“The situation is becoming quite dire in Venezuela, so one of the aspects of considering sanctioning oil is: What effect would it have on the Venezuelan people and is it a step that might bring this to an end, to a more rapid end?” Mr Tillerson said, seeking to justify worsening consumer shortages and hyperinflation.
“Not doing anything to bring this to an end is also asking the Venezuelan people to suffer for a much longer time.”
Before joining President Donald Trump’s administration, Mr Tillerson was CEO of transnational oil giant ExxonMobil, which has fought a long-running dispute with Venezuela’s socialist government.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Tillerson, Argentinian Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said his government does not recognise “the political process and authoritarian deviation of Venezuela” or the assembly.
Last month, Venezuela’s Supreme Justice Tribunal ruled out the US-backed opposition putting forward a joint presidential candidate under the banner of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mud) coalition of a dozen parties.
The tribunal said that would breach electoral rules against “dual membership” of political parties.
In a Facebook video, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro responded to the US threat, warning: “We are ready.
“Venezuela, oil industry workers, imperialism threatens us,” he said. “We are ready to be free and nothing nor nobody is going to stop us.”
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, in Nicaragua on the latest leg of his own regional tour, which previously took him to Cuba, tweeted his disgust at Mr Faurie’s “shameful and undignified” subordination to Washington in attacking Venezuela.
“His government once again on its knees before Trump” he wrote, in contrast to the “wise and dignified Argentinian people, full of solidarity and anti-imperialist by nature.”
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