US sanctions on Venezuela to continue: Pence

US Vice President Mike Pence (File photo) US Vice President Mike Pence

US Vice President Mike Pence says sanctions on Venezuela will continue, in spite of the release of an American missionary from a Venezuelan prison.

Josh Holt and his wife Thamy, who had been held by Venezuela without trial on weapons charges since 2016, returned home on Saturday after the South American country's government unexpectedly released them.

Welcoming the couple in a tweet, Pence said US sanctions will be in place until democracy returns to the country.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump boosted sanctions against Caracas, making it harder for Venezuela to liquidate state assets.

Washington has already imposed sanctions against Venezuela and blamed, together with its allies in the region and elsewhere, Nicolas Maduro’s government for the country’s acute economic crisis.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said on Saturday that US policy toward Venezuela remained unchanged, adding Washington stood steadfast in support of the Venezuelan people.

Pompeo had on Friday said that “a dictator today in Venezuela cripples his economy and starves his people.” Venezuela on Sunday hit back at Pompeo, denouncing “supremacist policies” and aggression by the “regime of Donald Trump.” “Mr. Pompeo shows false concern for the reality of Venezuela, while hiding the perverse effects of the unilateral coercive measures of his government,” Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The release of the US missionary and his wife was confirmed by Venezuela Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez, who said the two had been charged with espionage, violence and spreading activities against Venezuela's constitutional order.

In July 2016, Venezuela said it had arrested the two on charges of fomenting unrest against embattled President Nicolas Maduro. Venezuelan Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez said that the country’s intelligence service had detained Holt in a public housing complex on the western outskirts of Caracas, on June 30, 2016.

He was arrested, according to Lopez, on suspicion of “urging armed groups to destabilize Venezuela.”

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