Washington has frozen the assets of the Venezuelan government due to the “continued usurpation of power” by President Nicolas Maduro, according to an executive order issued by President Donald Trump.
The sanctions, which came into effect on Monday, represent a significant escalation of U.S. attempts to force Maduro, who won a second term in a disputed election last year, from office.
The U.S. has already used sanctions to target Venezuelan government officials, the central bank and its state-run oil and gas sector, from which the country derives the vast majority of its export earnings.
The Venezuelan economy has collapsed under Maduro, with inflation reaching 130,060 per cent last year and shortages of food and medicines driving millions of people abroad.
The leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaido, declared himself interim president in January but despite immediately winning the support of dozens of countries has failed to dislodge Maduro.
On Monday Trump accused Maduro’s government of “human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest and detention of Venezuelan citizens, curtailment of free press, and ongoing attempts to undermine Interim President Juan Guaido of Venezuela and the democratically-elected Venezuelan National Assembly.”
The announcement came a day ahead of the International Conference for Democracy in Venezuela in the Peruvian capital Lima, a meeting of representatives from than 50 countries seeking to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela.
Trump’s hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton is to represent the U.S. at the meeting.
In a tweet published around the same time as the executive order, Bolton said he was looking forward to a “productive day.”