Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro won’t stand to be outdone by the United States. On Saturday he announced travel bans for several U.S. politicians, just weeks after Washington issued its own sanctions against Venezuelan government officials.
According to Venezuelan government radio broadcaster Alba Ciudad, the president ordered visa freezes on members of “the U.S. government and imperialist elite,” including former U.S. president George W. Bush, former vice president Dick Cheney, and Republican Congress members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio. The visa bans, he said, targeted those who have “violated human rights and bombed villages as in Iraq, Syria and Vietnam.”
Venezuela will also require U.S. tourists to apply for a visa before visiting the country. Maduro said this was a reciprocal measure for all American visitors to Venezuela, so that they would “pay what a Venezuelan pays to travel to the U.S.”
Maduro also ordered the U.S. embassy in Caracas to reduce its staff. Currently more than 100 employees staff the American embassy there, but the president called for that number to be reduced to around 17 to mirror the number of staffers in Venezuela’s embassy in Washington.
The announcements come at a time of rapidly escalating tensions between Venezuela and the United States. Earlier this month, Maduro accused the U.S. of working with Venezuelan opposition members to plan an overthrow of his government. Previously, he accused U.S. Vice President Joe Biden of working with other Latin American governments to plot a coup in Venezuela.
The White House has dismissed the claims, but international concern over Venezuela’s political environment has been growing as Maduro’s government has cracked down on opposition members, including the mayor of Caracas, for their alleged role in the coup.
Maduro has vehemently criticized the sanctions Washington imposed on Venezuelan officials earlier this year, and on Saturday he rallied supporters to march against U.S. imperialism. The White House issued travel bans on several current and former Venezuelan government officials that it said committed human rights abuses in cracking down on mass anti-government protests last year.
Biden and Maduro had both planned to attend Uruguay’s presidential inauguration Sunday, setting the stage for an awkward face-to-face encounter. But both of them cancelled their trips – Biden said he had a cold, and Maduro said he would remain in Venezuela to deal with the domestic political situation.