U.S. sanctions Venezuelan officials to pressure Maduro

Jul 28, 2017, 00:11
U.S. sanctions Venezuelan officials to pressure Maduro

The vote will create a new Constituent Assembly tasked with rewriting the country's constitution.

The latest casualties bring to 106 the number of people killed in four months of violent protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, the AFP news agency said. The National Constituent Assembly would merely make it official. Overall, fewer people appeared to be heeding the shutdown than the millions who participated in a 24-hour strike last week. The right-wing MUD coalition has maintained its belligerent position, calling for a week of actions in hopes of disrupting the elections, which have by and large failed to gain any significant support.

Maduro's opponents at home and overseas are attempting to pressure him into halting his plans to rewrite Venezuela's constitution with an election for a Constituent Assembly on July 30.

Anti-government protests have become an nearly daily occurrence since the loyalist Supreme Court unsuccessfully tried to strip the country's opposition-led legislature, the National Assembly, of its power in late March.

Among the Venezuelan individuals targeted with the sanctions were army and police chiefs, the national director of elections, and a vice president for the state oil company PDVSA.

Members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) shield themselves from a fire amid clashes with demonstrators during a protest, as part of a general strike convened by the opposition, in Caracas, Venezuela, 26 July 2017.

Tightening sanctions on Venezuela could result in blowback on the US economy by way of higher oil and gasoline prices, sector analysts said.

The Venezuelan prosecutor's office said on Thursday that a 23-year-old man was killed in western Merida state and a 16-year-old boy died in the poor Caracas neighbourhood of Petare during clashes on Wednesday.

The most serious of the potential future steps would be financial sanctions that would halt dollar payments for the country's oil, starving the government of hard currency, or a total ban on oil imports to the United States, Venezuela's biggest customer.

Thirteen countries in the 35-member Organization of American States (OAS), a regional political bloc - including the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina - urged Maduro to suspend Sunday's election because it amounted to a "dismantling of democratic institutionality".

In Barinas, home state of former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, only about a third of businesses were closed according to a Reuters witness, as opposed to the opposition's formal estimate of 92 percent participation nationally.

Maduro accuses the USA of fomenting the unrest against him and his government, with the help of the conservative opposition.

"All of us present here in this room, we have been witness to how the secretary general has been called and instructed regarding the interventionist plan in Venezuela".

The oil export-dependent economy will shrink 12 per cent this year, the International Monetary Fund predicts. The meeting at the house of Leopoldo Lopez, a prominent opposition leader recently granted house arrest after three years in jail, sparked rumors of a possible behind the scenes negotiation of Venezuela's crisis.

That has prompted thousands of Venezuelans to flee to neighboring Colombia this week. They warn the new constitution will formalize a Maduro dictatorship and undermine democracy.

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