By Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration imposed sanctions on the chief judge and seven other members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court on
Thursday as punishment for annulling the opposition-led Congress earlier this year, U.S. officials said.
The new sanctions package was aimed at stepping up pressure on the leftist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his loyalists amid growing concern over a crackdown on street protests and his efforts to consolidate his rule over the South American oil-producing country.
The move provoked condemnation from Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez. “It’s outrageous and unacceptable for the United States to impose sanctions on a sovereign and independent nation in violation of Venezuelan and international laws,” she said on Twitter.
Venezuela’s latest wave of anti-government unrest, which has left at least 45 people dead in the last six weeks, began with the Supreme Court, packed with Maduro supporters, assuming the authorities of the opposition-led Congress in late March.
There was an international outcry against the court’s de facto annulment of the National Assembly, which the opposition won in late 2015 during an unprecedented economic and social crisis. The decision was later partially reversed, though it did not stop the unrest.
“The Venezuelan people are suffering from a collapsing economy brought about by their government’s mismanagement and corruption. Members of the country’s Supreme Court of Justice have exacerbated the situation by consistently interfering with the legislative branch’s authority,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
“By imposing these targeted sanctions, the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country,” he said.
Among those hit with sanctions was Maikel Moreno, a Maduro ally who became president of the 32-judge court in…