The European Union (EU) has imposed a series of new economic sanctions on Venezuela, stepping up pressure on the government of President Nicolas Maduro which the bloc blames for the political crisis gripping the Latin American state.
Foreign ministers of the 28-member bloc agreed without debate to ban arms sales and export of military and surveillance equipment to Venezuela on Monday.
“In addition to its political and diplomatic efforts in support of a peaceful negotiated way out of the political crisis, the council has today decided by unanimity to adopt restrictive measures, underscoring its concerns with the situation in the country,” the EU said in a statement.
The ministers said they held back from targeting any Venezuelan individuals, but warned that the legal basis for individual travel bans to Europe and the freezing of any assets in the bloc “will be used in a gradual and flexible manner and can be expanded.”
“Everything we do is aimed at seeking dialogue between the government and the opposition to find a democratic and peaceful solution,” Spain’s Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said at the meeting on Monday.
In the statement, the EU also criticized Caracas over October 15 regional elections, which they said took place amid “reported numerous irregularities.”
The ruling Socialist Party of President Maduro won a landslide victory by winning governorship of most of the states across the country. The right-wing Democratic Unity Coalition, which secured five state governorships, however, refused to recognize the results and called for street protests.
Back then, the EU described the poll results as “surprising,” while the US labeled them as “neither free nor fair.” Both vowed to put more pressure on Venezuela.
In response, Maduro called on European countries to “open their eyes,” saying his country would not be stopped by more sanctions.
The latest round of EU bans was announced as Venezuelan officials are expecting to meet foreign investors in Caracas to start “the first round of renegotiation and refinancing of Venezuela’s debt.”
The US government has also imposed sanctions on Venezuelan Maduro, calling him a “dictator.”
On the eve of the meeting, Maduro said 414 investors had confirmed their attendance, describing that as “91 percent of all holders of Venezuelan foreign debt.”
He suggested that Venezuela will avoid default despite its mounting financial crisis.
He said since taking office in 2013, his government has made more than $70 billion in debt payments, including more than $2 billion in the past month.