The White House said on Friday that it was considering additional “tools” to use against Venezuela following Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s order for the arrest of the Caracas mayor and accusations that the U.S. had backed a coup against the government.
A White House reporter asked White House spokesman Josh Earnest whether the U.S. was considering additional sanctions against Venezuela. Earnest responded and said that the State and Treasury departments were watching the situation closely and that they were considering “tools” that could be used to “steer” Venezuela in a better direction, Reuters reports.
“The Treasury Department and the State Department are closely monitoring this situation and are considering tools that may be available that can better steer the Venezuelan government in the direction that they believe they should be headed,” Earnest said.
Earnest said that the accusations that the U.S. was planning a coup against the Venezuelan government were “ludicrous.”
“The fact is the Venezuelan government should stop trying to blame the United States and other countries for events inside Venezuela,” he said. “The Venezuelan government needs to deal with the grave situation it faces.”
The comments from the White House follow the arrest of a key Venezuelan opposition leader and Caracas metropolitan mayor Antonio Ledezma on Thursday night, in a move that Maduro’s government said was needed to halt a U.S.-backed coup plot.
According to Reuters, Venezuelan intelligence agents stormed the 59-year-old veteran politician’s office in the banking district of Caracas after breaking down doors and firing shots in the air, witnesses had said.
“I just saw how they took Ledezma out of his office as if he were a dog,” wrote opposition legislator Ismael Garcia via Twitter. “They broke down the doors without an arrest warrant.”
The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Friday night condemning the arrest of Ledezma and said that the move was a clear attempt by the government to divert attention away from the country’s economic and political situation.
The United States condemns the detention of Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma by Venezuelan security forces, as well as the systematic intimidation of other leading opposition figures. These actions appear to be a clear attempt by the Venezuelan government to divert attention from the country’s economic and political challenges. Rather than imprisoning and intimidating its critics, the Venezuelan government should focus on finding real solutions through democratic dialogue.
Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing legitimate, democratic dissent. These tactics violate the Venezuelan people’s basic human rights and civil liberties and flout the principles and values set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The Venezuelan government should release those it has unjustly jailed and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. The United States calls on other countries, leaders, and organizations to urge the Venezuelan government to cease these efforts to silence the political opposition and further weaken democratic institutions.
On February 12, President Maduro announced during a nationwide televised address that a coup plot against the Venezuelan government had been foiled, and that both civilians and members of the military had been detained, teleSUR news reported.
Maduro claimed that those that were involved in the plot to overthrow the Venezuelan government were being paid in U.S. dollars, and that one of the suspects had been granted a visa to enter the U.S. if the plot had failed.
Maduro said that the coup plotters already had a “transitional” government and program lined up once the plan — which included bombings of the Presidential Palace and various other offices throughout Caracas, as well as the assassinations of members of the opposition, Maduro and others — was carried out.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Thursday denying any such involvement in a coup attempt or destabilization in Venezuela and called the accusations “baseless and false”.
The allegations made by the Venezuelan government that the United States is involved in coup plotting and destabilization are baseless and false. The United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means.
The United States is not promoting unrest in Venezuela nor are we attempting to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government. We remain Venezuela’s largest trading partner. Venezuela’s economic and political problems are the result of the policies of the Venezuelan government. The Venezuelan government should stop attempting to distract attention from the country’s economic and political problems and focus on finding real solutions through democratic dialogue among Venezuelans.
We regret that the Venezuelan government continues to blame the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. The Venezuelan government needs to deal with the grave situation it faces.
Late on Friday night, Reuters reported that the state prosecutor’s office in Venezuela had indicted Antonio Ledezma for conspiracy of plotting violence against the government and would be jailed in the military prison of Ramo Verde, the same prison where hardline opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been locked up for a year.
Antonio Ledezma will be jailed at the military prison pending a trial, according to Reuters.
“No one is untouchable in Venezuela,” Maduro said on Friday night, according to Reuters. “We’ll use an iron fist against coup-mongers.”
Maduro is facing a number of challenges on his domestic front in Venezuela, including a contracting economy, low oil prices, surging inflation, dwindling foreign currency reserves, mounting debt, the risk of a sovereign default, an unhappy electorate, shortages of basic foods and household products, and social unrest.