The Trump administration imposed new sanctions on members of Venezuela's supreme court for alleged human rights violations as it grows more concerned about the crackdown on anti-government protesters.
The aides spoke on condition of anonymity after being briefed on the action, which they say could come as early as later in the day.
One official said the list of blacklisted officials was likely to include Maikel Moreno, the president of the pro-government Supreme Court, which issued a ruling in late March stripping the opposition-controlled congress of its last remaining powers. The ruling was later partially reversed amid international criticism, but it sparked a protest movement that has continued for nearly two months and left more than 40 people dead.
The new designations by the U.S. Treasury Department would be the second round of sanctions that the Trump administration has imposed on high-level Venezuelan officials since taking office. In February, the administration ordered sanctions against Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking.
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"From the humanitarian standpoint it is like nothing we've seen in a very long time," President Donald Trump said Thursday after meeting at the White House with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Trump said they discussed Venezuela.
The threat of new sanctions comes as Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, is facing increasing international pressure to hold elections. On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council discussed the crisis in Venezuela for the first time at the request of the United States. The Washington-based Organization of American States is holding a rare foreign ministers council session on the troubled South American nation later this month.
Maduro has vowed to resolve his nation's crisis by convoking a special assembly to rewrite Venezuela's constitution. The opposition rejects that plan as another attempt by the president to tighten his grip on power, and opposition leaders are calling on Venezuelans to continue to take to the streets in protest.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have participated in near-daily anti-government street demonstrations since the Supreme Court's ruling in late March. 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.
More than 2,000 people have been detained and several hundred put through military tribunals, according to Foro Penal, a non-profit lawyers' cooperative defending many of those charged. Hundreds have been injured and at least 43 killed, a toll that equals the deaths in the nation's last wave of political upheaval in 2014.