LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Caracas, Venezuela — The Trump administration slapped sweeping financial sanctions on Venezuela on Friday, dramatically ratcheting up tensions between the two countries and making it harder for embattled President Nicolas Maduro to raise badly needed cash to prevent a debt default.

The sanctions, which Trump signed by executive order, prohibit American financial institutions from providing new money to the government or the state oil company, PDVSA. They also restrict the Venezuelan oil giant’s U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, from sending dividends back to Venezuela and ban trading in two bonds the government recently issued to circumvent its increasing isolation from Western financial markets.

“Maduro may no longer take advantage of the American financial system to facilitate the wholesale looting of the Venezuelan economy at the expense of the Venezuelan people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at the White House. “These measures will undermine Maduro’s ability to pay off political cronies, and regime supporters, and increase pressure on the regime to abandon it’s disastrous path.”

The financial sanctions drew quick rebuke from Venezuela’s government, with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza calling them the worst aggression against the country in two centuries.

“What do they want — they want to starve the Venezuelan people?” Arreaza told reporters at the United Nations after meeting with Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

He said his government would fight the measures, but also blamed members of the opposition, some of whom expressed satisfaction with the U.S. action, for conspiring to bring further hardships on the Venezuelan economy.

“We are also victims, as he is, of fake news,” Arreaza said in a rare show of solidarity with Trump.

A senior Trump administration official said additional sanctions would be imposed if Maduro doesn’t reverse course and meet opposition demands that he roll back plans to rewrite the constitution, free dozens of political prisoners, and hold fair and transparent elections.

In a conference call to brief reporters on the measures, the official said the United States has significant influence over Venezuela’s economy but does not want to wield it in an irresponsible manner that could further burden the already struggling Venezuelan people. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the measures in greater detail.

Reflecting those concerns and a strong lobbying effort by the U.S. oil industry, Friday’s action stopped short of cutting off U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil that are crucial both to both Venezuela’s economy and to Gulf refiners. The executive order also allows debt financing for exports of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read or Share this story: http://detne.ws/2wNcKCf