Washington: The United States has slapped travel bans on a number of Venezuelan government officials accused of being behind human rights abuses, a senior US diplomat said Wednesday, amid growing tensions between the two countries.
Venezuela was hit by four months of anti-government protests earlier this year in which 43 people were killed as Venezuelan security forces sought to quell the unrest.
"Government security forces have responded to these protests in many instances with arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force," said deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
There have also been "repeated efforts to repress legitimate expression of dissent through judicial intimidation, to limit freedom of the press, and to silence members of the political opposition."
US Secretary of State John Kerry had therefore "decided to impose restrictions on travel to the United States by a number of Venezuelan government officials who have been responsible for or complicit in such human rights abuses," Harf said in a statement.
The surprise move comes only days after Washington was angered by the release in Aruba of a former Venezuelan intelligence chief wanted in the US on drug trafficking charges.
Authorities on the Dutch island arrested retired major general Hugo Carvajal last week, but freed him days later allegedly after coming under pressure from Caracas.
Harf said the visa bans were "specific and targeted, directed at individuals responsible for human rights violations and not at the Venezuelan nation or its people."
But she refused to identify any of the officials targeted "because of visa record confidentiality."
"Our message is clear: those who commit such abuses will not be welcome in the United States," she added.
"With this step we underscore our commitment to holding accountable individuals who commit human rights abuses."
Washington has long sought to improve ties with Caracas which soured after leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez came to power in the South American nation.
There had been initial hopes of a fresh start to relations following his death in March last year.
But Chavez`s handpicked successor, President Nicolas Maduro, has launched repeated accusations against the US of plotting his overthrow and to kill him.