US Imposes New Unilateral Sanctions on Venezuela, Tightening Economic Noose

Senator Marco Rubio lambasted the eight judges for aiding and abetting Venezuela's democratically-elected president.

The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on eight current or former members of the Venezuela's Supreme Court Thursday, in its ongoing attacks on the Bolivarian nation.

RELATED: Comparing Venezuela’s Media with Our Own

Senator Marco Rubio stood on the Senate floor Thursday and lambasted the eight judges for aiding and abetting Venezuela's democratically-elected President Nicolas Maduro for supposedly “murdering” protesters amid weeks of opposition-spurred violent demonstrations. The Republican senator from Florida also accused the government of carrying out a “coup.”

The Supreme Court justices added to the sanctions blacklist were Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno, Calixto Ortega, Arcadio Delgado, Federico Fuenmayor, Carmen Zuleta, Lourdes Suarez Anderson, and Juan Jose Mendoza. Rubio emphasized that these officials should be “punished for what they've done."

On April 1, Venezuela’s Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling that verified its responsibilities to resolve matters generally under the purview of the National Assembly, which has been declared in contempt for more than one year after confirming three lawmakers whose election was overturned due to fraud claims. The decision, widely misrepresented in international media, stoked already high-running tensions in the country and was used by opposition forces as a pretext for the violent street demonstrations that have been taking place for seven weeks.

Maikel Moreno, the head of the legislative body, has stressed in the past the impartiality of the Supreme Court, noting that Venezuelan state bodies like the National Assembly are free to execute their duties as they see fit, provided that these activities don't openly disregard the country's constitutional order.

The Treasury Department's sanctions cited various rulings by the top Venezuelan legislative body, including the approval of the national budget and Maduro's appointment of alleged “government sympathizers” that the U.S. demands face approval by the National Assembly.

RELATED: US Has Budgeted $49M for Venezuelan Right-Wing Since 2009

"The Supreme Court of Justice will never have conflicts with any other public power," Maikel said in April. "We are the arbitrator."

Since taking control of the assembly in December 2015, the majority opposition has largely focused parliamentary activities on removing Maduro from office.

On the same day as Colombian President Manuel Santos met with President Donald Trump, four U.S. Senators offered Santos military aid to repel a possible conflict with Venezuela, according to El Tiempo.

Rubio was one of the senators who said that Colombia's armed forces need to be strengthened in case the crisis in Venezuela worsens. Ultra-right Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asked Santos what kind of weaponry he thought would be necessary, while Senators John McCain and Bob Corker said that military aid had been discussed with the Colombian head of state.

Unlike the last batch of sanctions, the current round of sanctions on top officials doesn't focus on spurious “drug trafficking” allegations.

Venezuela has seen U.S.-backed opposition protests for the past seven weeks that have claimed the lives of over 40 people while injuring hundreds.

Since 2009, the U.S. State Department has allocated at least US$49 million to oust the anti-imperialist Bolivarian government. The U.S. has identified Venezuela as its main adversary in the Western Hemisphere, according to a strategic document from 2007 leaked by whistle-blowing former CIA operative Edward Snowden.

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Kremlin warns of retaliation after US expands sanctions list

The US move to expand its sanctions list to target Russian companies is not in line with proposed cooperation in sensitive areas, which the leaders of the two nations discussed at the G20 summit in China, the Kremlin said, warning of possible retaliation.

The expansion “goes in serious discord with the issues of possible cooperation in sensitive areas, which the two presidents discussed at their meeting,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Wednesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Barack Obama held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China on Monday. A possible joint effort to fight terrorism in Syria and other possible forms of cooperation were discussed, according to US and Russian officials.

On Tuesday, the US Department of Commerce announced the expansion of its blacklist of Russian companies and individuals over their alleged links to the conflict in Ukraine. Last week the US Treasury made a similar move, expanding Ukraine-related sanctions against Russian entities.

Commenting on the latest sanctions escalation, Peskov said Russia would respond accordingly.

“As far as the sanctions go, we base our polices on the principle of reciprocity,” he said. “We will analyze the new list.”

“We can only express regret that the meeting of the two presidents… was framed by such additional expansions of the sanctions,” the Kremlin spokesman added.

READ MORE: Putin: Russia & US may reach agreement on Syria 'within next few days'

The US has been targeting Russian businesses and individuals since the armed coup in Ukraine in 2013 resulted in an anti-Russian government in Kiev. The then Ukrainian region of Crimea responded by declaring independence and requesting Russia accept it under its sovereignty.

Washington, which supported the Kiev coup, accused Moscow of annexing part of Ukraine. It also claims that Russia supplies rebels in other parts of Ukraine with arms and military specialists in what Ukrainian and US officials call a ‘hybrid war’ by Russia against Ukraine.

Russia denies the allegations and says Kiev is waging a war against its own citizens while its foreign sponsors, including the US, turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by Ukrainian troops and paramilitary.

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