U.S. slaps sanctions on Cuba defence minister over support for Venezuela's Maduro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States imposed sanctions on Thursday on Cuba's defence minister, accusing him of human rights violations and supporting socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Washington blacklisted Leopoldo Cintra Frias, minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba (MINFAR), and his children, Deborah Cintra Gonzalez and Leopoldo Cintra Gonzalez, in its latest action targeting Havana for its support of Maduro.

Pompeo said MINFAR had been involved in the torture of Venezuelans and subjected them to "cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment for their anti-Maduro stances" alongside Maduro's military and intelligence officers.

The designation bars Cintra, a career military officer who joined Fidel Castro's rebel army in 1957, and his children from entering the United States.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.

"As Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, Cintra Frias bears responsibility for Cuba’s actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela," Pompeo said.

"Dismantling Venezuela's democracy by terrifying Venezuelans into submission is the goal of MINFAR and the Cuban regime," Pompeo added.

The United States and more than 50 other countries have recognised Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president. Guaido invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency last year, arguing Maduro's 2018 re-election was a sham.

But Maduro retains the support of the military, runs the government's day-to-day operations and is backed by Russia, China and Cuba.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)