U.S. targets Maduro-backed legislator and allies in fresh Venezuelan sanctions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on seven Venezuelan politicians it said led a bid by President Nicolas Maduro to wrest control of the country’s congress from U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido.

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Earlier this month, troops blocked Guaido from entering congress long enough for the Socialist Party to declare allied legislator Luis Parra as head of parliament. Opposition legislators in a separate session on Jan. 5 re-elected Guaido and later returned to the legislative palace to hold session.

Washington blacklisted Parra and six of his allies “who, at the bidding of Maduro, attempted to block the democratic process in Venezuela,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The other Maduro-aligned politicians sanctioned on Monday are: Jose Noriega, Franklyn Duarte, Jose Brito, Conrado Perez, Adolfo Superlano and Negal Morales.

Reuters reported last week that the Trump administration was weighing imposing sanctions against Parra and more than a dozen others who took part in the Socialist Party’s attempt to take control of congress.

The sanctions, Washington’s latest action targeting the socialist Maduro government, freeze any U.S. assets of those targeted and generally prohibit Americans from doing business with them.

Parra, in a statement, said he “energetically and categorically” rejected the sanctions and said it was unacceptable for foreign nations to meddle in the Venezuelan congress’ actions.

Last January, Washington recognized Guaido as the OPEC nation’s legitimate interim president and began ratcheting up sanctions and diplomatic pressure in an effort to oust Maduro.

A year later, Maduro remains in power, backed by the military as well as Russia, China and Cuba. A senior administration official told Reuters in October that U.S. President Donald Trump’s frustration over the lack of results had spurred aides to ready further actions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the new sanctions demonstrated the “United States’ continued commitment to the Venezuelan people in their struggle to restore democracy and prosperity.”

“Maduro’s repressive and illegal attempts to stifle the democratic will of the Venezuelan people reveals once more his desperation,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Angus Berwick and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker