U.S. sanctions Venezuelan officials as pressure builds on Maduro

WASHINGTON/CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) – The Trump administration imposed sanctions on 13 senior Venezuelan officials as the country’s opposition launched a two-day strike on Wednesday, heaping pressure on unpopular President Nicolas Maduro to scrap plans for a controversial new congress.

Venezuela’s long-time ideological foe the United States targeted the country’s army and police chiefs, the national director of elections, and a vice president of the state oil company for alleged corruption and rights abuses.

But U.S. President Donald Trump spared Venezuela for now from broader sanctions against its vital oil industry – although such actions are still under consideration.

U.S. officials said the individual sanctions aimed to show Maduro that Washington would make good on a threat of “strong and swift economic actions” if he goes ahead with a vote on Sunday that critics say will cement dictatorship in the OPEC nation.

The leftist leader was also feeling the heat at home, where neighbors gathered from dawn across Venezuela to block roads with rubbish, stones and tape, while many stores remained shut.

“It’s the only way to show we are not with Maduro. They are few, but they have the weapons and the money,” said decorator Cletsi Xavier, 45, standing with women blocking the entrance to a freeway in upscale east Caracas with rope and iron metal sheets.

Maduro Defiant

Maduro has vowed to push ahead with Sunday’s vote for a Constituent Assembly, which will have power to rewrite the constitution and override the current opposition-led legislature.

The successor of late leader Hugo Chavez says the new superbody is the only way to bring peace back to Venezuela after four months of violent anti-government protests that have led to over 100 deaths. Five died in a one-day strike last week.

The opposition says Sunday’s vote, which it is boycotting, is a sham designed to give Maduro power to rule almost single-handedly.

One of the U.S. officials warned the sanctions…

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