(Adds Rubio comment in paragraphs 15-16)
By Doina Chiacu and Andrew Cawthorne
WASHINGTON/CARACAS, July 30 Washington barred a
group of Venezuelan officials, including government ministers
and presidential advisers, from the United States on Wednesday
after accusing them of abuses in a crackdown on protests against
President Nicolas Maduro this spring.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, citing visa
record confidentiality, did not identify those who would be
denied entry and did not say how many officials were on the
Months of demonstrations led by hard-line opposition and
student leaders led to violence that killed 43 people in the
South American OPEC member nation's worst unrest for a decade.
Demonstrators said they were protesting economic hardships
and dictatorial government, but Maduro, who replaced the late
Hugo Chavez last year, called them a cover for a U.S.-backed
"coup" attempt against him.
Protesters were subjected to arbitrary detentions, excessive
force and judicial intimidation, Harf said in a statement,
echoing local opposition and rights' groups accusations against
The Venezuelans barred from entry included government
ministers, presidential advisers, judicial officials and law
enforcement and military officials, a State Department
In Caracas, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua condemned
the actions as unjustified and vengeful steps by an "empire"
losing influence in Latin America.
"These are desperate actions. They're meant against us, but
at root, they are a recognition of revolutionary Venezuela's
important role in building the new Latin America. We welcome
Wednesday's U.S. action targeted individuals and does not
constitute sanctions against Venezuela, the State Department
Harf said in her statement: "While we will not publicly
identify these individuals because of visa record
confidentiality, our message is clear: those who commit such
abuses will not be welcome in the United States."
The fatalities from the Venezuela protests, mainly from
gunshots, included both opposition and government supporters.
Local rights activists say hundreds of people were rounded
up arbitrarily, with many beaten by security forces.
Eighty-seven people remain in jail over the demonstrations,
including radical opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, accused by
the government of being the mastermind.
Members of the U.S. Congress, particularly Republicans and
Florida lawmakers, had been pushing for the administration to
crack down on the Maduro government by freezing the U.S.
financial assets of Venezuelans considered rights abusers, as
well as travel restrictions.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio called the
announcement an important first step, but said asset freezes
"The U.S. government should use every tool at our disposal
to hold the Maduro regime accountable for its human rights
violations," Rubio said in a statement.
Tense relations between Caracas and Washington flared this
week when the United States accused Venezuela of applying
economic pressure on the Netherlands not to extradite an
official Washington wants to face drugs charges.
Venezuela denied using undue pressure over former military
intelligence head Hugo Carvajal, who was arrested on the
Caribbean island of Aruba which is part of the Kingdom of the
Netherlands. He was held for four days then freed.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle
in Washington; Deisy Bouitrago in Caracas; Editing by W Simon
and Mohammad Zargham)