WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, saying it would pursue those in President Nicolas Maduro’s government for corruption as well as officials conducting diplomacy on his behalf.
Arreaza and a judge in the Court of Appeals for Caracas, Carol Padilla, were targeted in the latest round of U.S. sanctions against Maduro’s government over the crisis in Venezuela, the Treasury Department said.
Washington blames Maduro for the country’s economic collapse and for undermining democracy. The Trump administration recognized Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as the South American nation’s interim president and has asked Maduro, a socialist in power since 2013, to step down.
“The United States will not stand by and watch as the illegitimate Maduro regime starves the Venezuelan people of their wealth, humanity, and right to democracy,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
“Treasury will continue to target corrupt Maduro insiders, including those tasked with conducting diplomacy and carrying out justice on behalf of this illegitimate regime.”
Venezuela’s foreign ministry responded by “energetically” rejecting the sanctions, which it called “unilateral and illegal.”
“With these new measures, the Trump administration is trying to silence Venezuela’s voice in the world,” the ministry said.
In a separate statement, the U.S. Department of State said Friday’s designation was “a reminder” that Venezuelan authorities have detained Guaido’s top aide, Roberto Marrero, since March and that such actions would have consequences.
“If Nicolas Maduro and those aligned with him continue to use imprisonment and intimidation against the legitimate government and people of Venezuela, the United States will respond,” the department said, reiterating the U.S. demand for Marrero’s release.
Since the United States recognized Guaido in January, Arreaza has been a regular visitor to the United States, specifically the United Nations in New York, where he has lobbied countries to build support for Maduro.
He is married to the eldest daughter of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s former president who died in 2013 of cancer. It was not immediately clear whether the sanctions would affect his travel to the U.N.
Arreaza has spoken at U.N. Security Council meetings on Venezuela and held lengthy press conferences. On Thursday he addressed a meeting of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on multilateralism.
He met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday and discussed the humanitarian situation in the country, a U.N. spokesman said. Arreaza also met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New York on Wednesday.
He is active on Twitter, directly taking on U.S. President Donald Trump and White House national security adviser John Bolton.
Reporting by Susan Heavey, Makini Brice and Lesley Wroughton, and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang