Exclusive: U.S. plans new package of Venezuela sanctions soon - sources | Reuters

By Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick
| WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON The Trump administration plans to impose new sanctions soon on at least half a dozen Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights violations amid U.S. concern over the Venezuelan government's crackdown on unrest, congressional aides said on Thursday.The sanctions package, which could be announced as early as Thursday, is expected to designate those unnamed officials for punitive measures to be enforced by the U.S. Treasury Department, the sources told Reuters.There was no immediate comment from the White House.Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in the South American nation of 30 million in protest against the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro, demanding elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid and autonomy for the opposition-led legislature.Maduro's government accuses them of seeking a violent coup and says many of the protesters are no more than "terrorists." At least 43 people have died in six weeks of unrest, which has also been fueled by anger over food shortages and soaring inflation.

The U.S. Treasury Department has in the past sanctioned Venezuelan officials or former officials, charging them with trafficking or corruption, a designation that allows their assets in the United States to be frozen and bars them from conducting financial transactions through the United States.The officials have denied the charges and called them a pretext as part of an effort to topple Maduro's government.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called the situation in Venezuela “a mess” and his aides have threatened tougher measures against Caracas. But sanctions so far have stopped short of hitting the oil sector in Venezuela, which is a major U.S. oil supplier.The U.S. Treasury Department has in the past sanctioned Venezuelan officials or former officials, charging them with trafficking or corruption, a designation that allows their assets in the United States to be frozen and bars them from conducting financial transactions through the United States. The officials have denied the charges, and called them a pretext as part of an effort to topple Maduro's government.

Word of imminent new sanctions coincided with White House talks on Thursday between Trump and President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Venezuela’s neighbor. The new administration has sought to forge a united front with Latin American countries to pressure the Venezuela government.In New York on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned of the consequences of "serious instability" in the country.Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Rafael Ramirez accused the United States of encouraging violent elements within Venezuela seeking to topple the Maduro government. (Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Oserman)

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Published Date: May 19, 2017 02:02 am | Updated Date: May 19, 2017 02:02 am

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