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CARACAS – In the last hours of his term, US President Donald Trump protected tens of thousands of Venezuelan immigrants from deportation on Tuesday night. It was a reward to the Venezuelan exiles, who were among his most loyal followers and feared losing their privileged access to the White House during the Biden administration.
Trump signed a presidential decree blocking for 18 months the expulsion of more than 145,000 Venezuelans who were at risk of being returned to their country, devastated by the crisis. He attributed his decision to a “deterioration of conditions” in Venezuela that poses a national security risk.
“The United States continues to be a beacon of hope and freedom for many, and now eligible Venezuelan citizens in the United States will receive much needed temporary immigration relief,” wrote Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio in a statement celebrating the measure.
Last-minute clemency – a stark contrast to Trump’s tough immigration policies over the past four years – ended a busy last day in office, in which Trump also approved a new round of financial sanctions against the alleged representative. of the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, and tightened controls to deprive the Venezuelan Army of US espionage technology.
But before Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, there was much more attention focused on the one chosen by the president-elect to be Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, who during his confirmation in the Senate in Washington reiterated his support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
In his first statements on Venezuela, he said that he would continue to recognize Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela and indicated that he had no illusions about a future dialogue with Maduro, whom he described as a “brutal dictator.”
Still, the veteran diplomat expressed frustration with the outcome of the current US strategy, which has not removed Maduro from power or led to free and fair elections. He said there is scope to fine-tune sanctions and better coordinate with allied countries to restore democracy in the battered South American country.
“The hard part is that despite all these efforts, which I support, we obviously haven’t gotten the results we need,” Blinken said.
The Trump administration was the first of more than 50 countries around the world to recognize Guaidó as president of Venezuela, shortly after the young lawmaker led the challenge to the Maduro government two years ago. Outgoing Secretary of State Michael Pompeo spoke with Guaidó on Monday by phone, expressing his “personal respect and appreciation” for his “commitment to the cause of freedom,” the State Department said in a statement.
Venezuela, once a rich oil country, has plunged into a political and economic crisis in recent years that has caused more than five million people to flee, due to an erosion of public services and a shortage that affects even running water. , electricity supply and gasoline.
Most of the emigrants have gone to other parts of Latin America. But an estimated 350,000 live in the United States and some 146,000 do not have a residence permit, according to the Center for Migration Studies in New York.
More than 700 Venezuelans have been expelled from the United States since 2018 and 11,000 more are in deportation proceedings, according to the Syracuse University TRAC database.
For years, Venezuelans, with bipartisan support, unsuccessfully called for temporary protection from deportations, while Trump tried to end the program that protected immigrants from six other countries, including Haiti, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Trump’s order offered similar protections, for example to prevent deportation and grant the right to work, though it met resistance from some Democrats, who want Biden to introduce additional safeguards.
For its part, the United States Department of the Treasury issued financial sanctions against three individuals, 14 companies and six vessels. All are accused of assisting the Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA, controlled by Maduro, to evade previous US sanctions created to prevent the president from profiting from the sale of crude.
The new sanctions target people and businesses linked to Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman who US officials say is a close associate of Maduro. Saab is jailed in Cape Verde, where he is fighting an extradition request to the United States on corruption charges.
The Maduro government dismissed the sanctions as “imperialist aggression” that sought to destroy Venezuela’s ability to meet its needs with the sale of oil.
The US Commerce Department also announced measures Tuesday to prevent US technology from being used for military intelligence in several nations, including China, Cuba, Russia and Venezuela.
The tough measures have been an almost routine aspect of the outgoing government, whose heavy-handed strategy with Venezuela has proved popular with Latino voters exiled in Florida.
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