US sanctions Mexican Firms for Selling Venezuelan Oil

Central America:

In a 24 June press release US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that he had recently informed the US Congress of the US government’s intent to provide US$252m in additional foreign assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. According to the statement, this assistance will “promote US national security and further the President’s goal of decreasing illegal immigration to the US”. It adds that “these additional funds will assist in making these countries more secure and prosperous by enabling private sector-led economic opportunity and provide critical, lifesaving assistance. Leveraging private sector investment to address the second order economic impacts of the [coronavirus (Covid-19)] pandemic is key to achieve longer term success in addressing the underlying security, governance, and prosperity issues that drive illegal immigration to the US”. The US has approved US$258m in targeted foreign assistance as part of the Growth in the Americas/America Crece initiative and has “prioritised critical funds to address the Covid-19 emergency pandemic”.


On 24 June the US embassy in Chile, through the Humanitarian Assistance Programme (HAP) of the US Southern Command, announced the delivery of more than US$750,000 of donations to combat the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic in the South American country. This includes the delivery in July of two field hospitals to help improve the capacity to treat those hospitalised due to Covid-19. During June, 12,300 face masks, 400 boxes with cleaning supplies and more than 1,500 disposable nappies (worth over US$50,000) were donated with funds from the HAP and from US businesses. The handover of these supplies was made to representatives from various charitable organisations, such as the Servicio Nacional de Menores and Fundación Ilusióname, and will go to support vulnerable communities impacted by Covid-19 in Chile. Baxter Hunt, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Chile, said “the US has been a historical and reliable partner of Chile in the response to disasters and this includes the current pandemic”.


In an 18 June press statement, the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced sanctions against a network of companies that “transported oil stolen from the Venezuelan people under the guise of an oil-for-food scheme”. The sanctions targeted primarily Mexico-based individuals and entities. The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) identified three individuals and eight entities as part of the network. These included: Joaquín Leal Jiménez, Olga María Zepeda Esparza, and Veronica Esparza García; and the companies, Libre Abordo SA de CV and Schlager Business Group S de RL de CV, as well as additional entities that they own or control. According to OFAC, since 2019 Leal and Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman, working with Libre Abordo and Schlager Business Group, had been cooperating with the Venezuelan government and state-owned oil company Pdvsa to sell Venezuelan crude oil through an “oil-for-food” programme. A total of 30m barrels of crude oil were re-sold, corresponding to 40% of Pdvsa’s exports in April 2020.


In the latest round of Country Reports on Terrorism, released by the US Department of State on 24 June, the US government singles out Venezuela (along with Cuba) as continuing to “provide permissive environments for terrorists”. According to the report, individuals linked to the Colombian guerrilla groups, Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and dissidents from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) – who the report says “remain committed to terrorism notwithstanding the peace accord” – as well as Hezbollah sympathisers are present in Venezuela. The report accuses Venezuela’s de facto president, Nicolás Maduro, of having “openly welcomed former Farc leaders who announced a return to terrorist activities”.  It adds that on 28 July 2019 during the closing remarks of the São Paulo Forum in Caracas, Maduro “stated that Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich (former Farc leaders who were at that time missing and widely presumed to have left the peace process and returned to terrorist activities) were both welcomed in Venezuela”.