New US sanctions target Maduro’s wife, key Venezuelan officials

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Treasury announced on Tuesday that it has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s “inner circle,” including his wife and the nation’s vice president among other key government officials.

The Treasury said in a statement that it has blacklisted Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino.

“We are continuing to designate loyalists who enable Maduro to solidify his hold on the military and the government while the Venezuelan people suffer,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement.

The sanctions would freeze any assets that a blacklisted person holds under U.S. jurisdiction and ban any U.S. individuals or companies from making business transactions with them.

In addition, the United States also put sanctions on a network which it accused of supporting a key front man for President of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly (ANC) Diosdado Cabello, seizing a 20-million-U.S. dollar private jet that belonged to the front man.

The United States has been stepping up pressure on the South American country by imposing a string of sanctions, including ones on Maduro himself and the senior officials.

Venezuela has said it does not recognize any sanctions imposed on the country without U.N. authorization.

Venezuela crisis: Lima Group to denounce Maduro at UNGA, ICC

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump suggested that Maduro could be easily toppled by a military coup. He, however, declined to respond to questions about whether a U.S.-led military intervention in the crisis-stricken country was possible, saying he doesn’t reveal military strategy.

“It’s a regime that, frankly, could be toppled very quickly by the military if the military decides to do that,” Trump said in comments on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. “It’s a truly bad place in the world today.”

Over the past two years the Trump administration has sanctioned dozens of individuals, including Maduro himself, on allegations of corruption, drug trafficking and human rights abuses.

Maduro later appeared on state television, thanking Trump for sanctions that he called a badge of honor for those around him in a battle against what he calls an imperialist power. He also blasted the sanctions targeting his wife.

“If you want to attack me, come at me directly. But don’t touch Cilia and my family,” Maduro said, calling her an anti-imperialist warrior. “Her only crime is being my wife.”

Flores is an influential figure in her own right, and has served in congress as well as a constitutional assembly that has expansive powers.

Maduro has repeatedly accused the U.S. of backing attempts to overthrow him.

Venezuela alleges ‘Chilean hand’ in drone attack on Maduro

On Monday, the Venezuelan government alleged that diplomats from Colombia, Chile and Mexico may have played a role in an attempt to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro last month.

Embassy staff from these three Latin American countries working in Caracas either lent support or were willing to assist those carrying out the attack, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said, demanding an investigation by the foreign governments.

The Chilean government immediately rejected “very serious and slanderous insinuations and threats” by the Venezuelan minister over the alleged connection of Chilean Embassy in Caracas with the attack on Maduro.

By the end of 2018, hyperinflation in Venezuela is projected to reach over one million percent. Three million Venezuelans will have departed Venezuela for neighboring nations to escape widespread poverty and its attendant hardships.