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 seizing powers from the opposition-led Congress earlier this year, U.S. officials said.
The new sanctions package was aimed at stepping up pressure on supporters of the leftist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro amid growing U.S. concern over a crackdown on mass street protests.
Venezuela’s latest wave of anti-government unrest, which has left at least 44 people dead in the last six weeks, began with the Supreme Court, packed with Maduro loyalists, assuming the powers of the opposition-led Congress in late March.
There was swift and widespread international condemnation of the de facto annulment of the National Assembly, which the opposition won in late 2015 during an unprecedented economic and social crisis that has seen Maduro’s popularity plummet, and the decision was later partially reversed.
“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.”
Among those hit with sanctions was Maikel Moreno, a Maduro ally who…