The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) targeted five lawmakers for supposedly acting as “part of a scheme to manipulate parliamentary elections” to be held on December 6, 2020.
“The United States remains committed to holding the Maduro regime and its supporters accountable for their blatant corruption to ensure that the Venezuelan people secure the free and fair election they deserve,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement.
Four of the blacklisted deputies, Miguel Ponente, Guillermo Luces, Bernabe Gutierrez and Chaim Bucaran, belong to the four largest Venezuelan opposition parties: Justice First (PJ), Popular Will (VP), Democratic Action (AD) and A New Time (UNT), respectively.
The sanctioned leaders are part of a group of political figures that broke the opposition’s call for abstention and decided to run in December’s elections.
These lawmakers also take part in ad hoc board of directors named by the Venezuelan Supreme Court in recent months following legal appeals from party members.
The Gutierrez-led AD put out a statement “deploring” the OFAC measures, reaffirming the party’s electoral tradition and rejected “pressure” against the electoral processes that could solve Venezuela’s political conflicts.
The fifth sanctioned figure, Williams Benavides Rondon is head of the Tupamaro pro-government leftist movement, which also saw its leadership recently replaced by a Supreme Court-appointed ad hoc board.
The measures freeze any US-based assets belonging to the five individuals and prohibit US citizens from doing business with them.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro “repudiated” the sanctions during a televised address on Tuesday.
“I reject all measures of extortion, blackmail and persecution. This is typical of a mafia and not a government,” he said.
The latest US sanctions coincided with the 75th United Nations General Assembly. The Venezuenal president took part in a special session on Monday and reaffirmed his call for the UN to send observers to the National Assembly elections scheduled for December 6.
Maduro transmitted his message through a videoconference from Miraflores Palace in Caracas on Monday and ratified that the upcoming elections will be held without foreign interference.
“We must demand an end of all unilateral coercive measures and that our people be allowed to exercise their own rights,” Maduro stated in his speech.
He emphasized that the countries that defend peace should rally and stand against US sanctions on Venezuela and its allies such as Iran, Cuba and Nicaragua.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido reacted shortly after in a video address calling on the international community to take “decisive action” to overthrow Maduro.
“Today I call upon all representatives of UN member states to consider a strategy that contemplates different scenarios after the diplomatic route has been exhausted,” he said. On Twitter he reiterated his appeal for a boycott of the upcoming elections, while claiming he “formally requested that the international community consider ‘responsibility to protect’” options.
Guaido proclaimed himself “interim president” in January 2019 with immediate support from the US and its allies. In the almost two years since he has led several unsuccessful attempts to oust the Maduro government by force. His leadership position has been increasingly questioned among opposition ranks following a string of corruption scandals and alleged involvement in a failed paramilitary invasion in May.
Edited and with additional reporting by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.