The Trump administration on Wednesday intensified its campaign to oust the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, slapping a fresh set of economic sanctions on the three leftist-ruled countries.
John Bolton, President Trump’s national security advisor, said several banks, companies and individuals from the three countries will be added to an ever-growing blacklist that bars them from doing business with U.S. citizens or firms.
The sanctions are largely symbolic since years of similar penalties have produced little noticeable impact on the three autocratic governments, which have proved highly resistant to outside political and economic pressure.
In this case, the Trump administration appeared focused at least in part on domestic politics, and the Republican-leaning emigre population in South Florida, in making an announcement heavy on rhetoric but light on substance.
“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fall: in Havana, in Caracas, in Managua,” Bolton told survivors of the failed CIA invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, joined by other exiles, at an event in Miami.
Those added to the list Wednesday included five Cuban entities that Bolton said were tied to military or intelligence services, among them the Aerogaviota airline. More than 200 other Cuban entities already are under U.S. sanctions.
More significantly, Bolton said travel to Cuba by people without families there will be further restricted, and the remittances that Cuban Americans send to their relatives on the island will be capped at $1,000 every three months.
Under President Obama, travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba were loosened for the first time in decades and limitations on remittances were removed — two wildly popular measures among many Americans and Cubans alike.
The Central Bank of Venezuela will be blacklisted, Bolton said, as part of a broader effort to cripple that country’s economy and force President Nicolas Maduro from office. Maduro appears firmly entrenched in power despite the U.S. policy.
Dozens of Venezuelan political and military figures and components of important industries like gold mining already are under U.S. sanctions.
Bolton said the Trump administration has moved to block shipments of oil from Venezuela to Cuba, a major source of revenue for Caracas and low-priced fuel for Havana. Bolton called these steps “two-fers” because they hurt both countries.
In Nicaragua, Laureano Ortega was sanctioned, joining his parents, President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo. Bolton said the younger Ortega was being groomed to take over for his father and was using a government position to embezzle money.
Nicaragua has been roiled by large demonstrations against Ortega’s authoritarian rule. His security forces have killed hundreds of people at the protests.
Bolton repeatedly attacked the Obama administration and its willingness to restore diplomatic relations and limited economic ties to Havana in 2015 after decades of official enmity.
By relaxing pressure on Cuba, Bolton argued, Obama gave then-President Raul Castro maneuvering room to begin penetrating Venezuela, where Cuban agents now help prop up Maduro.
Actually, Cuba has been active in Venezuela for nearly two decades, since long before Obama took office.
Maduro’s repressive tactics of stifling dissent, concentrating power, and arbitrarily detaining citizens “are straight out of Cuba’s playbook,” Bolton said.
Bolton portrayed the administration as trying to rid the hemisphere, and the United States, of communism and socialism.
In addition to attacking the political and economic systems in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Bolton’s comments fit in to White House attempts to paint Democrats, especially those running for president, as socialists.
The decision sparked a quick pushback. The European Union, which has a heavy business presence in Cuba, threatened to lodge a formal complaint in the World Trade Organization.
Cuba’s president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, brushed off Bolton’s comments and the administration’s new steps.