WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House imposed "tough" new sanctions against Venezuela on Thursday (Nov 1), denouncing Caracas as being part of a "troika of tyranny" that includes Cuba and Nicaragua.
National Security Adviser John Bolton told an audience at Miami Dade College that the sanctions would particularly target Venezuela's gold sector, which "has been used as a bastion to finance illicit activities, to fill its coffers and to support criminal groups."
Bolton, a longtime foreign policy hawk, said the elections of far-right Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and conservative Ivan Duque in Colombia were "positive signs for the future of the region" that demonstrate a regional commitment to free markets and "accountable governance."
"The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere will not endure forever," Bolton said, referring to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
"Like all oppressive regimes and ideologies, it too will meet its demise."
The new sanctions against Venezuela came in the form of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump.
The sanctions on Venezuela's gold take aim at an important revenue source for the regime of President Nicolas Maduro, which relies on "corrupt or deceptive" transactions, Bolton said.
He also announced the State Department has added new sanctions on more than two dozen entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military and intelligence services.
Bolton's "troika of tyranny" label is reminiscent of George W. Bush calling Iran, Iraq and North Korea an "axis of evil" in 2002.
In the months after, Bolton, who at the time was undersecretary of state, named other countries including Cuba as being worthy of the list.
The leaders of Venezuela and Nicaragua are "desperate" autocrats who had joined Cuban counterparts in the "same oppressive behaviour of unjust imprisonment, torture and murder," Bolton said.
TOUGH STANCE ON CUBA
In addressing Nicaragua, Bolton said the regime of President Daniel Ortega had "completely eroded" democratic institutions, stifled free speech and imposed a deadly policy against political opponents.
Until free, fair and early elections are held, "the Nicaraguan regime, like Venezuela and Cuba, will feel the full weight of America's robust sanctions regime," Bolton said.
Trump has taken a much tougher stance on Cuba than his predecessor Barack Obama, who re-established diplomatic relations with Havana and re-opened the US embassy there.
Washington has accused Havana of carrying out some sort of sonic "attacks" against diplomats at the embassy, and has scaled back personnel at the facility.
Even as Bolton was speaking, the UN General Assembly called for an end to the decades-old US embargo on Cuba, adopting a resolution by an overwhelming majority and rejecting US moves to criticise Havana's human rights record.
It was the 27th time that the 193-nation assembly has issued the call to lift the embargo imposed in 1962, but at least 65 countries including many European nations abstained.
Bolton replaced Lieutenant-General HR McMaster in April as Trump's top security adviser.
A hawk, Bolton is an advocate of regime change in Iran and has spoken out forcefully against North Korea.
He played a key role in pushing for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, and still defends the Bush administration's fateful decision to start a war.
Trump last month hinted at a potential military response to respond to Venezuela's crisis, vowing to take action against the leftist-ruled country whose economy has gone into a tailspin.
"I just want to see Venezuela straightened out," Bolton told reporters while in New York for the UN General Assembly in September.
"All options are on the table, every one - strong ones and the less than strong ones - and you know what I mean by strong," he said.