U.S. hits Venezuelans with sanctions after crackdown

Matthew Lee
AP Diplomatic Writer

Washington — The Trump administration on Thursday hit another 10 current and former Venezuelan officials with financial sanctions over corruption and abuse of power allegations related to President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling party’s crackdown on opposition.

The Treasury Department said the penalties were imposed following what it called flawed regional elections last month in Venezuela. Those elections were marred by irregularities “that strongly suggest fraud helped the ruling party unexpectedly win a majority of governorships,” it said.

The sanctions freeze any assets that the affected officials have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them. Among the officials named are the country’s former communications and food ministers, Ernesto Villegas and Carlos Osorio, along with others involved in organizing elections. Treasury said the officials all had a role in undermining electoral processes, media censorship, or corruption in government-administered food programs.

“As the Venezuelan government continues to disregard the will of its people, our message remains clear: the United States will not stand aside while the Maduro regime continues to destroy democratic order and prosperity in Venezuela,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “We will maintain our vigorous efforts to sanction Venezuelan government officials who are complicit in Maduro’s attempts to undermine democracy, violate human rights, inhibit the freedom of expression or peaceful assembly, or engage in public corruption, unless they break from Maduro’s dictatorial regime.”

The U.S. has targeted dozens of current and former Venezuelan officials and companies with sanctions since the government in August set up a constitutional assembly that has been given virtually unlimited powers.