U.S. sanctions five Venezuelans, ratcheting up pressure on Maduro

People look at the broadcast of the meeting of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country's rightful interim ruler, with workers in Caracas, Venezuela February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday imposed sanctions on top Venezuelan security officials and the head of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA as it ratcheted up pressure on embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro over an election it says was illegal.

Along with PDVSA head Manuel Quevedo, Treasury targeted three top Venezuelan intelligence officials and Rafael Bastardo, who U.S. officials say is the head of a national police unit responsible for dozens of extrajudicial killings carried out in masked nighttime raids on Maduro’s behalf.

“We are sanctioning officials in charge of Maduro’s security and intelligence apparatus, which has systematically violated human rights and suppressed democracy, including through torture and other brutal use of force,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Washington has disavowed Maduro’s government and backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who last month invoked articles of the Venezuelan constitution and declared himself president. Guaido promised to end a humanitarian crisis caused by an economic collapse.

Also targeted was Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala, commander of Maduro’s Presidential Guard, which Treasury says has tortured Maduro’s opponents and carried out other human rights abuses.

Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, director general of the Venezuelan National Intelligence Service, and Hildemaro Jose Rodriguez Mucura, first commissioner of the service, also were sanctioned.

Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe