U.S. blacklists Venezuelan lawmakers, alleging election manipulation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on Venezuelan lawmakers it accused of supporting the country’s leftist leader, Nicolas Maduro, and his planned legislative elections that Washington has said will likely be rigged.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks at the 75th UN annual meeting from Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela September 22, 2020. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

The Treasury in a statement accused the five blacklisted individuals of having acted as part of a scheme to manipulate parliamentary elections set to take place in December by “placing control of Venezuela’s opposition parties in the hands of politicians affiliated with Nicolas Maduro’s regime, undermining any credible opposition challenge to that regime.”

Most of the opposition and the United States have said the December elections will likely be rigged in favor of the ruling socialist party.

In a state television address later on Tuesday, Maduro said he “repudiated” the U.S. government’s move.

“The group that governs the United States acts like a mafia, with threats, extortion, blackmail and aggressions,” Maduro said.

In a statement, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “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,”

The Treasury blacklisted the leaders of the four main Venezuelan opposition parties, appointed by the Maduro-friendly Supreme Court or seeking the court’s recognition of their leadership, as part of what opposition leaders describe as an effort by the government to put the opposition parties in control of shadow allies.

Those blacklisted were Miguel Ponente, Guillermo Luces, Bernabe Gutierrez and Chaim Bucaran.

The Treasury also imposed sanctions on Williams Benavides, the head of the Tupamaro leftist movement that supports Maduro.

Tuesday’s move freezes any U.S. assets of those who are blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

The United States has escalated sanctions on Maduro over the past two years, arguing his 2018 re-election was a sham.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Brian Ellsworth, Matt Spetalnick and Luc Cohen; Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney