The US announced more sanctions on the Venezuelan government meant to further cut off its financial dealings, just hours after embattled President Nicolas Maduro won an election many rejected as illegitimate.
- The US unveiled more sanctions on Venezuela on Monday.
- The new measures are meant to further restrict Venezuelan officials' ability to sell state assets.
- The move comes hours after an election many regard as fraudulent.
The Trump administration on Monday issued new sanctions on the Venezuelan government, intended to prevent the sale of debt and other assets.
The new executive order "restricts the regime's ability to liquidate state assets at fire-sale prices at the expense of the Venezuelan people," a senior administration official said, adding that the US would "not stand idly by while Venezuela's assets are dissipated by this corrupt regime and sold off for pennies on the dollar."
The order builds on previous actions, the official said, citing an August executive order that restricted Venezuela's financial dealings as well as a March order that barred US citizens from involvement in the Petro digital currency set up by President Nicolas Maduro's government. It also comes days after sanctions on four senior Venezuelan officials and three US-based companies.
The new order prohibits US citizens from involvement in the purchase of any debt owed to the Venezuelan government, including accounts receivable; debt owed to the government pledged as collateral after May 21; and the sale, transfer, assignment, or pledging as collateral by the Venezuelan government of any equity interest in any entity in which the government has an ownership interest of 50% or more.
The order applies to both the Central Bank and Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, the state-owned oil company.
The official did not elaborate on the types of assets or debt that officials in the Maduro government are supposedly trying to sell but did describe the transactions as a danger to Venezuela's economy.
"If they're owed a million dollars a week from now and they're selling it for $2,000 today, the financial implications for the country, and for even [the government's] limited willingness to feed their people, are enormous," the official said.
Moves to profit from government assets have emerged as Venezuela's economic deterioration, as well as sanctions, have limited Venezuelan officials' financial opportunities, the official said.
"As the economy has plummeted, the regime elites are seeing fewer and fewer opportunities to enrich themselves ... and so we now are seeing literally a smash-and-grab type of behavior by the regime," the official said. "Anything that it isn't bolted down they're looking to sell off."
'Punish and change behavior'
An administration official said the new sanctions did not apply to the sale of oil products to Venezuela, which relies on purchasing light crude and other additives to dilute its own heavy crude for use as petroleum. (Venezuela sits on the largest proven oil reserves in the world.)
Asked about the effects of the order on parties outside the US, the official said that they would need to contact the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control, "given the complicated way that money moves in the oil markets, and if it's transiting the United States, that could definitely be an issue."
The US levied the new sanctions hours after Maduro was declared the winner of a presidential election that was widely expected to be fraudulent.
Maduro received 68% of Sunday's votes, more than three times his main rival's tally. Voter turnout was 46% — down from 80% during the last presidential election in 2013, which Maduro narrowly won. The Venezuelan president maintains about 20% support from a bedrock group of Venezuelans, many of whom are loyal to the legacy of late President Hugo Chavez, regarded as a champion of poor and marginalized Venezuelans.
Maduro heralded the result as a win against "imperialism," but many rejected it. The US said before the vote that it would not accept the result, and six countries, including the US, at a G20 meeting on Monday said in a joint statement that they would not recognize the outcome.
Venezuela's mainstream opposition boycotted the vote, and the main challengers said there were irregularities in the voting. Critics accused the Maduro government of using state-issued "fatherland cards" — with which poor Venezuelans could register to get food and other benefits — to buy votes.
A senior Trump administration official told reporters on Monday that Sunday's vote was the "culmination of an illegitimate process years in the making," adding that the "process was choreographed by a regime too unpopular and afraid of its own people to risk real competition."
A US official called on the Venezuelan government to hold credible elections, respect the country's constitution and legislature, release political prisoners, and respond to the country's humanitarian crisis as ways to bring sanctions to an end.
"Sanctions are designed to both punish and change behavior, and that's the administration's perspective on these sanctions," an official said.