March 19 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order blocking U.S. transactions involving cryptocurrency issued by or on behalf of the Venezuelan government.
"All transactions related to, provision of financing for, and other dealings in, by a United States person or within the United States, any digital currency, digital coin, or digital token, that was issued by, for, or on behalf of the government of Venezuela on or after Jan. 9, 2018, are prohibited as of the effective date of this order," the executive order reads.
Senior administration officials said the order was effective at 12:15 p.m. EDT Monday so any U.S. individual or entity that has invested in the petro -- the Venezuelan cryptocurrency -- would be unable to sell it or use it henceforth.
The executive order comes more than three months after President Nicolas Maduro's government created petro, a cryptocurrency backed by the country's oil reserves and other natural resources. The Venezuelan president said petro would "help defeat the financial blockade and move toward new forms of international financing for the economic and social development of the country."
"The petro is a desperate effort by a corrupt regime to defraud international investors," a senior administration official told reporters. "Investing in the petro should be viewed as directly supporting this dictatorship."
Venezuela is embroiled in a financial crisis that has seen skyrocketing inflation and a scarcity of basic goods like food and medicines. Meanwhile, the Maduro regime has been accused of human rights violations in crackdowns on opposition figures and protesters.
Over the past several months, the United States has sanctioned multiple Venezuelan officials for election irregularities and corruption.
Monday's order coincides with the implementation of new sanctions against four Venezuelan officials, the U.S. Treasury announced. Senior administration officials said the four individuals are not specifically related to the establishment of the petro in Venezuela.
The Treasury Department issued new sanctions on:
-- William Antonio Contreras, vice minister of internal commerce in the Ministry of Popular Power of Economy and Finance, and national superintendent for the Defense of Socioeconomic Rights
-- Nelson Reinaldo Lepaje Salazar, head of the Office of the National Treasury
-- Americo Alex Mata Garcia, alternate director on the board of directors of the National Bank of Housing and Habitat, former vice minister of agricultural economics and former president of the Agricultural Bank of Venezuela
-- Carlos Alberto Rotondaro Cova, former president of the board of directors of the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security.
A senior administration official said the Trump administration was still considering whether a ban on Venezuelan oil would be an effective sanction on the country because it would have a strong impact on the U.S. economy.
"We don't take a decision like that lightly," he said.
The official said ongoing pressure on Venezuela aims to prompt the Maduro regime to "take concrete steps ... to alleviate human suffering."