Trump says US watching situation in Venezuela 'very closely'

United Nations (United States) (AFP) –


President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned the United States was watching the situation in Venezuela "very closely," as it unleashed new sanctions targeting the crisis-wracked country's ties with Cuba.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Trump assailed Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, as "a Cuban puppet, protected by Cuban bodyguards."

"The United States has vast humanitarian aid to be delivered," Trump said, adding Washington was "watching the Venezuela situation very closely."

"We await the day when democracy will be restored, when Venezuela will be free, and when liberty will prevail throughout this hemisphere," he said.

As Trump spoke, a Venezuelan delegate pretended to read a book about South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Maduro was not present, choosing instead to travel to Moscow to meet Wednesday with ally Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

The new sanctions announced Tuesday in Washington target Venezuela's ties with Cuba, which supports Maduro.

The move is the latest US escalation of sanctions aimed at undermining support for Maduro, who is grappling with a political and economic crisis that the United Nations says has left a quarter of Venezuela's 30 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

The new sanctions hit four companies -- three registered in Panama and one in Cyprus -- that ship oil from Venezuela to Cuba, and names four specific oil tankers.

The companies are Caroil Transport Marine Ltd., which is based in Cyprus, and Panama-based Trocana World Inc., Tovase Development Corp and Bluelane Overseas SA.

They will have any US-based assets frozen and are prohibited from using the American financial system or doing business in the United States, barring them from much of the global financial system.