WASHINGTON: United States sanctions on Venezuela will continue, Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday, despite the release of an American and his wife from a Venezuelan jail.
"Very glad that Josh Holt is now back home with his family – where he has always belonged. Sanctions continue until democracy returns to Venezuela," Pence said in a tweet.
He was commenting after Holt, 26, and his wife Thamara Caleno, landed in Washington after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered their release after two years.
It was a "gesture" aimed at promoting dialogue between Caracas and Washington, Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez told reporters in Caracas.
Holt, a 26-year-old Mormon missionary from Utah, had traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry Thamara, whom he had met on the internet.
Shortly after they wed, however, the couple was arrested by the Venezuelan intelligence service Sebin, and accused of possessing weapons and plotting to destabilize the Maduro government.
After a May 20 election which Washington rejected as a "sham," US President Donald Trump tightened pre-existing sanctions against Maduro's regime.
The White House action would complicate Venezuela's efforts to sell off financial IOUs known as "accounts receivable." Senior US administration officials said the instruments had been used to garner much-needed revenue for the cash-starved regime.
Washington has previously imposed sanctions on Maduro and his senior aides, and banned US entities from buying any more debt from Caracas or state oil company PDVSA.
Maduro has insisted Venezuela is the victim of an "economic war" waged by the conservative opposition and external powers including the United States aimed at toppling him.
Most economists attribute the oil-rich country's economic collapse to years of mismanagement, corruption and a period of sharply lower oil prices.