U.S. blacklists Venezuela bank Bandes after arrest of Guaido aide

By Lesley Wroughton
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A man stands outside the Bandes bank headquarters in Caracas

A man stands outside the Bandes bank headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States imposed sanctions on Venezuela's development bank, Bandes, a day after the Trump administration warned there would be consequences for the arrest by Venezuelan authorities of opposition leader Juan Guaido's top aide.

The U.S. Treasury said on Friday it was slapping the sanctions on Banco de Desarrollo Economico y Social de Venezuela, including its subsidiaries in Uruguay and Bolivia.

Congress head Guaido, who invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency in January, has accused Bandes of being used by President Nicolas Maduro's government to funnel money outside Venezuela.

The White House said in a statement it was committed to preventing Maduro's government from stealing Venezuela's resources and from arresting those pushing for political change.

Venezuela's information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Guaido's chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, was detained in a pre-dawn raid on Thursday, sparking vows of reprisals from the United States, which along with most Western countries backs Guaido as Venezuela's rightful leader.

"The United States will not tolerate the arrest of peaceful democratic actors, including members of the democratically-elected Venezuelan National Assembly and those Venezuelans working with interim President Juan Guaido," the White House said in a statement.

The U.S. Treasury said Maduro tried to move $1 billion (£757.2 million) out of Venezuela through Banco Bandes Uruguay in early 2019 as he came under increasing pressure from the United States and other countries in the region to step down.

Bandes has received billions of dollars over the past decade from the China Development Bank, in exchange for oil, which the Venezuelan government used to fund infrastructure projects.

Uruguay has stayed neutral on Venezuela's political crisis and has called for dialogue, while China, Russia and regional ally Cuba have backed Maduro.

But the sanctions on Bandes could test Beijing's ties with Caracas, since it would impede Venezuela from restructuring its $20 billion debt with China, opposition lawmaker Angel Alvarado said on Friday.

"That makes it even less likely that China will step in to save Maduro," Alvarado wrote on Twitter. Guaido and his allies have repeatedly argued that China and Russia are more likely to collect on their loans to Venezuela with Maduro out of office.

The sanctions freeze assets belonging to the bank and its subsidiaries, and prevent U.S. citizens from any dealings with Bandes. They follow a raft of other sanctions imposed by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump in recent months against Maduro, top government officials, and state oil firm PDVSA.

Trump's national security adviser John Bolton tweeted: "BANDES bank is to Venezuela's financial sector what PDVSA is to its oil sector. This action will severely affect any attempted currency movements by Maduro and his cronies moving forward. Do not test the resolve of this Administration."

Maduro's government accuses Washington of waging a "economic war" to force them from power and has said that the sanctions only harm regular Venezuelans.

The United States also on Friday imposed sanctions on other state-owned Venezuelan banks, including Banco de Venezuela and Banco Bicentenario. It said that Visa, Mastercard and American Express would be prohibited from facilitating transactions involving those banks, beginning in March 2020.


(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, additional reporting by Angus Berwick and Luc Cohen in Caracas, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)