The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday announced sanctions against 10 current or former Venezuelan government officials, whom it said "are associated with undermining electoral processes, media censorship, or corruption in government-administered food programs in Venezuela."
The sanctioned officials include Freddy Alirio Bernal Rosales, Venezuela's minister of urban agriculture, Ernesto Emilio Villegas Poljak, the newly appointed minister of culture and the former minister of communication and information, and Julian Isaias Rodriguez Diaz, ambassador to Italy.
As a result of the actions, all assets of these individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be frozen, and U.S. persons will also be generally prohibited from dealing with them.
The sanctions followed the Venezuelan national elections on Oct. 15. The U.S. Treasury Department said in an announcement that the elections were marked by "numerous irregularities that strongly suggest fraud helped the ruling party unexpectedly win a majority of governorships."
"Despite calls for an independent audit of the election results, the Venezuelan government proceeded to swear in the winning candidates through an oath of office," said the department.
"Our message remains clear: the United States will not stand aside while the Maduro regime continues to destroy democratic order and prosperity in Venezuela," said Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin in the announcement.
Washington- Caracas rift
An oral war between Washington and Caracas kept escalating, as U.S. President Donald Trump in July threatened to "take strong and swift economic actions" against Venezuela's government if Venezuela went ahead to pursue the creation of a National Constituent Assembly (ANC) tasked to rewrite the constitution.
The United States in June already announced sanctions against 13 current and former Venezuelan government officials to pressure their President Nicolas Maduro into halting his plan to rewrite the constitution.
The sanctions came ahead of the planned ANC election, which the U.S. Treasury Department said "will have the power to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution and may choose to dissolve Venezuelan state institutions."
In response, Venezuela rejected the U.S. sanctions.
"We emphatically reject the pretensions and intentions of the U.S. Treasury Department against eight people, among them citizens who have had the privilege of being elected by their own people to the ANC," said Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreazaon on Aug. 8.
The Oct. 15 elections saw the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) snap up the vast majority of gubernatorial races, winning 18 of 23 states. The remaining five went to the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).
The ANC later swore in the 18 loyalist governors who won their positions in regional elections, while five opposition governors refused to take part.
The elections came at a time of high tension in Venezuela, as anti-government protests organized by the MUD led to more than 90 deaths since early April. The MUD sees the establishment of the ANC as a power grab by Maduro.