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  • A mural in Caracas reads, "The courageous people will defend Venezuelan oil in imperialism

    A mural in Caracas reads, "The courageous people will defend Venezuelan oil in imperialism's cross hairs. | Photo: AFP

The U.S. action is aimed at interfering in the upcoming Venezuelan elections for the National Constituent Assembly.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on 13 senior officials of Venezuela's government Wednesday.

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“As President Trump has made clear, the United States will not ignore the Maduro regime’s ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom, and the rule of law,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a press release.

On July 17, President Donald Trump threatened Venezuela by stating, "If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions."

"Anyone elected to the National Constituent Assembly should know that their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential U.S. sanctions,” Mnuchin added.

Among those sanctioned on Wednesday were National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena; Elias Jose Jaua Milano, the head of the Presidential Commission for the National Constituent Assembly; Tarek William Saab Halabi, Venezuela’s Ombudsman; Maria Iris Varela Rangel, member of Venezuela’s Presidential Commission for the National Constituent Assembly; and Nestor Luis Reverol Torres, Venezuela’s Minister of Interior, Justice, and Peace.

According to the press release, "All assets of these individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from dealing with them."

The other sanctioned officials are: Carlos Alfredo Perez Ampueda, National Director of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Police; Sergio Jose Rivero Marcano, Commander General of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard; Jesus Rafael Suarez Chourio, General Commander of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Army; Franklin Horacio Garcia Duque, former National Director of the Bolivarian National Police; Rocco Albisinni Serrano is the President of the National Center for Foreign Commerce; Alejandro Antonio Fleming Cabrera, Vice Minister for Europe of Venezuela’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Simon Alejandro Zerpa Delgado, Vice President of Finance for PDVSA, the state oil company; and Carlos Erik Malpica Flores, former National Treasurer.

The sanctions did not include broader financial or "sectoral" sanctions against Venezuela's oil industry – though such actions, U.S. officials told Reuters, are still under consideration.

The officials told Reuters that the move was just an initial round of sanctions and the administration was readying tougher additional measures that could be rolled out as part of a "steady drumbeat" of responses to the Venezuelan crisis.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio warned on his Twitter account Wednesday morning that "Today will be a bad day for 13 enablers of @NicolasMaduro effort to destroy democracy in Venezuela and more actions will follow."

In a separate announcement, Colombia's Avianca airline said it is suspending flights to Venezuela due to the situation in the country, claiming that international standards, the infrastructure of Venezuelan airports and the guarantee of consistent flights had to be advanced.

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Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro responded to Trump's threats earlier in the month by saying, “Venezuela is a free, sovereign country and does not allow itself to be threatened by any global empire.”

“Imperialism ... is threatening that if the National Constituent Assembly takes place, they are going to block Venezuela,” Maduro added. “Block Venezuela? Venezuela is not blocked by anyone, my friend.”

International support for Venezuela poured in after Trump's tweeted his threats, as many countries and organizations denounced attempts at United States' strong-arm tactics.

The Constituent Assembly aims to arrive at a peaceful solution through dialogue to Venezuela's current political crisis. The vote to elect the delegates is scheduled for July 30, when nearly 20 million Venezuelans will choose from 6,120 candidates representing diverse sectors and territories of society.

Many opposition groups have refused to participate in the constituent process and in dialogue with the government aimed at reducing tensions in the country.

The United States has led the charge for increased intervention in Venezuela, including threatening various OAS members like El Salvador, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, with diplomatic and financial action if they voted in favor of non-interference and respect for Venezuela's sovereignty.

However, the United States has been unable to isolate Venezuela in the international arena, failing several times to censure the Bolivarian country at the Organization of American States and the United Nations.

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