U.S. sanctions hit eight more Venezuelans
President Donald Trump’s administration has expanded U.S. sanctions against Venezuela by freezing assets of eight Venezuelans as it seeks to raise pressure on the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
A list released by the U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday included Adan Chavez, brother of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and Hermann Escarra, a constitutional adviser to Maduro.
Seven of those sanctioned are current or former Venezuelan government officials, the Treasury Department said in a statement. The eighth Venezuelan “participated in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Venezuela,” according to the statement.
The action came as the U.S. sought a coordinated international response in imposing penalties on the Maduro regime for undermining democracy in the South American country. The U.S. is pressing European and South American countries — including Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia — to match the sanctions.
At least 11 South American countries as well as Canada met Tuesday in Lima, Peru, to discuss the implications of Venezuela’s newly convened assembly responsible for rewriting the constitution. Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has led calls for a regional response to the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Venezuela.
The latest U.S. sanctions stopped short of a more significant penalty that has been under consideration: banning imports of Venezuelan oil, which accounts for 95 percent of the country’s foreign-currency earnings. Venezuela, a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has the world’s largest proven reserves and is South America’s largest oil exporter. It also is the third-largest source of imported oil to the U.S.
The expansion of the sanctions list comes as Maduro works to consolidate power and oust political enemies. The Trump administration took the unusual step of personally sanctioning a head of state when it froze Maduro’s assets in the U.S. on July 31 after he proceeded with a vote on a new constitutional assembly that was a first step to revising the constitution.
The vote to elect the assembly was boycotted by the opposition, which controls the elected Legislature, and was marred by accusations of fraud. The assembly on Saturday removed the chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, a critic of Maduro’s regime, and vowed to rule for a maximum of two years.
“President Maduro swore in this illegitimate constituent assembly to further entrench his dictatorship, and continues to tighten his grip on the country,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement announcing the new sanctions Wednesday.
Previously, the U.S. sanctioned 13 people associated with Maduro’s government, including Simon Zerpa, vice president of finance at Petroleos de Venezuela, the state oil company.
The deepening political crisis and the threat of additional sanctions has worsened Venezuela’s economic turmoil. Repsol SA pulled all foreign workers from its oil fields in Venezuela, while Chevron Corp. and Total SA have removed a small number of employees, according to people with knowledge of the companies. Norway’s Statoil ASA has withdrawn its expatriate staff.