WAHSINGTON — The United States branded Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a “dictator” threatening his country’s democracy on Monday and imposed sanctions targeting any assets he might hold on US territory.
“Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing the action.
“By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”
Sunday’s vote in Venezuela to elect a Constituent Assembly that would supersede the country’s opposition-controlled National Assembly earned international scorn, with the US leading a group of nations refusing to recognize the election.
Washington has been a longstanding opponent of Maduro’s government — and of his late predecessor Hugo Chavez — but Monday’s statement marks the first time that a senior official had publicly branded him a dictator.
And the United States has already imposed sanctions on several Venezuelan individuals and organizations, but it was a rare step to target a sitting head of state by name that signaled growing alarm at the crisis.
The order does not, however, impose restrictions on Venezuela’s huge oil exports to the United States — a key lifeline for the country’s tottering economy but also its leftist anti-American government.
“As a result of today’s actions, all assets of Nicolas Maduro subject to US jurisdiction are frozen, and US persons are prohibited from dealing with him,” the Treasury statement said.
“Under Maduro, the Venezuelan government has deliberately and repeatedly abused the rights of citizens through the use of violence, repression and criminalization of demonstrations,” it alleged.
“At his direction, the regime’s security forces have systematically repressed and criminalized opposition parties through arbitrary detention, military prosecution of civilians and the excessive use of force against demonstrators.
“Any member of the opposition or critic of the regime risks being detained, imprisoned, assaulted, tortured and assassinated.”
The statement urged those Venezuelans elected to the controversial Constituent Assembly not to take their seats, and warned that any who support the imposition of “an authoritarian regime” will also face sanctions.