Tensions between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments mounted this week following the news that President Obama had officially declared Venezuela a national security threat and had levied sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials.

This latest round of political maneuvers comes in response to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s March 1 diplomatic clampdown against American officials and tourists in his country.

Also read: President of Venezuela Announces Diplomatic Sanctions Against U.S.

Al Jazeera on Tuesday brought details of the Obama administration’s latest salvo:

In Monday’s statement, White House called on Venezuela to release all political prisoners, including “dozens of students”, and warned against blaming the US for its problems.

“We’ve seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela,” [White House spokesman Josh] Earnest said.

“These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government to deal with the grave situation it faces.”

The White House said the executive order targeted people whose actions undermined democratic processes or institutions, had committed acts of violence or abuse of human rights, were involved in prohibiting or penalising freedom of expression, or were government officials involved in public corruption.

The new sanctions were the third set imposed on Venezuelans since December.

President Maduro responded later on Monday by announcing to his people on national television that Obama, “representing the U.S. imperialist elite, has personally decided to take on the task of defeating my government and intervening in Venezuela to control it.”

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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