World News

U.S. Sanctions Four More Venezuela Officials

Posted January 5, 2018 8:05 p.m. EST

The Trump administration imposed sanctions Friday on four Venezuelan officials, accusing them of engaging in political repression and public corruption as part of President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

One official, a sitting governor, had served as head of the food ministry, which has been blamed for mismanaging a program critical in a nation where children have died of hunger. Another, a former governor, was said to have empowered armed gangs in Bolívar state.

“President Maduro and his inner circle continue to put their own interests above those of the Venezuelan people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “This action underscores the United States’ resolve to hold Maduro and others engaged in corruption in Venezuela accountable.”

In announcing the sanctions, the Treasury Department criticized Venezuela’s all-powerful National Constituent Assembly — which the United States considers “illegitimate” — for effectively stripping the three biggest opposition parties of their ability to participate in the next presidential election, which is supposed to take place this year. The assembly has decreed that only parties that took part in the previous election will be eligible.

Much of the opposition boycotted municipal elections last month to protest an electoral system they consider rigged in favor of Maduro’s governing United Socialist Party, which nearly swept the mostly uncontested local contests.

All four of those sanctioned are current or former military officials. The Treasury Department said in its announcement that Venezuelan military leaders had violated their institutional independence by helping to violently quash street protests and by profiting from corrupt schemes.

Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, wrote on Twitter, that “our National Armed Forces are profoundly Bolivarian and their chief interest is defending the independence of the Venezuelan people, obey their popular mandate and the authority of the government of Venezuela.”

“We demand respect for the Venezuelan people and its institutions,” Arreaza wrote.

Sanctioned by the United States on Friday were Rodolfo Marco Torres, governor of Aragua state and a former food minister who also sits on the board of the state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, SA; Francisco Rangel Gómez, a former governor of Bolívar state; Fabio Zavarse Pabón, division general of the Bolivarian National Guard; and Gerardo Izquierdo Torres, major general of the army.

With Friday’s designation, the United States will freeze all assets belonging to the four men under its jurisdiction and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.

Forty-four Venezuelans have now been sanctioned by the U.S. government — including Maduro himself, whom the Trump administration has branded a “dictator.” The United States last sanctioned 10 officials, including several government ministers, in November. The Trump administration has also barred Americans from holding new Venezuelan government bonds.

Maduro has dismissed the sanctions as meddling by the U.S. “empire.”