US Sanctions Members of Venezuela's Supreme Court for Power Grab

As a response to the unrest that started in Venezuela in April, President Donald Trump's administration imposed sanctions on eight Venezuelan Supreme Court justices on Thursday.

In a press briefing earlier in the day, President Trump called the situation in Venezuela "a very, very awful problem".

"By imposing these targeted sanctions, the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country", U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said.

Maduro's government accuses them of seeking a violent coup and says numerous protesters are no more than "terrorists".

The death of a 15-year-old boy brought the toll from weeks of protests in Venezuela to 43 - a sad milestone that matched the number killed in the last comparable wave of unrest, in 2014.

In February, the U.S. designated Maduro's vice president and presumed heir Tareck El Aissami a major worldwide drug trafficker. Opposition activists accuse President Maduro of mismanagement that has led to a deep economic crisis in the country and call for an early election.

Barricades of trash, vehicle tires, and sand littered the streets, as daily life broke down in the city that was also a hotspot during the 2014 wave of unrest against leftist President Nicolas Maduro. But sanctions so far have stopped short of hitting the oil sector in Venezuela, which is a major U.S. oil supplier.

Despite its vast oil reserves, Venezuela is suffering chronic shortages of food, medicine and other basic supplies. "And hopefully that will change", said Trump.

In a separate Russian-Venezuelan development, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin said on Thursday that the Russian oil giant received a stake in Citgo, the USA refining and marketing unit of embattled Venezuelan state company PDVSA, as collateral when the Russian company made pre-payment to the Venezuelan group for oil supplies. It said the National Assembly was in contempt.

Earlier, Haley said in a statement that Venezuela was "on the verge of a humanitarian crisis" and urged the global community to work together "to ensure Maduro ends this violence and oppression and restores democracy to the people".

In March, the court explicitly stated it was assuming the congress' role in a ruling authorizing Maduro to create oil joint ventures without the previously mandated congressional approval.

The new sanctions come as Maduro is facing increasing pressure at home and overseas to hold elections. The protests typically end with state security forces launching tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators, some of whom fire back with rocks and gasoline bombs.

Government opponents, accusing Maduro of becoming a dictator by postponing elections and seeking to rewrite the constitution, have staged demonstrations almost every day since early April.

The UN Security Council turned its attention to the growing crisis in Venezuela for the first time on Wednesday, May 17, as the U.S. warned of the consequences of "serious instability" in the country.

  • Zachary Reyes