Hundreds of Venezuelan demonstrators rally in the streets of Caracas on May 1 after opposition supporters clashed with government forces. File Photo by Miguel Gutiérrez/EPA-EFE
Aug. 6 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump has frozen all U.S.-linked assets of the Venezuelan government -- imposing a total economic embargo on the South American nation his administration says is designed to choke off the regime's "financial lifeline."
The sanctions are the latest economic maneuvers targeting the Maduro government, over what U.S. officials say is an illegal presidency -- and follow punitive measures last month that sanctioned 13 entities and 10 individuals, including three of Maduro's stepsons, for running a network of shell companies to siphon money from its emergency food program.
The United States government has been pressuring Maduro to step down since January when opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president, declaring Maduro's re-election last year illegitimate. Since then, more than 50 countries, including the United States and most democratically elected governments, have recognized Guaido's claim to the country's helm.
"The people of Venezuela are standing for freedom and democracy, and the United States of America is standing right by their side," Trump said.
The order also revokes more than 700 visas, which affects more than 100 former Venezuelan diplomatic personnel," the White House said in a statement Tuesday.
"This executive order further isolates Maduro's illegitimate regime from the global financial system and the international community."
Trump outlined the expansion in a letter late Monday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and lawmakers.
"I have determined that it is necessary to block the property of the Government of Venezuela in light of the continued usurpation of power by the illegitimate Nicolas Maduro regime," he wrote. "As well as the regime's human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest and detention of Venezuelan citizens, curtailment of free press, and ongoing attempts to undermine Interim President Juan Guaido of Venezuela and the democratically-elected Venezuelan National Assembly."
The new sanctions block all property and assets of the Venezuelan government in the United States from being involved in any transactions.
"All property and interests in property of the government of Venezuela that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in," the order states.
The only exceptions allowed under the order include official federal government business and humanitarian aid.
The order amounts to a total economic embargo for Venezuela. The only other countries under such heavy U.S. sanctions are North Korea, Iran, Syria and Cuba.
The U.S. Treasury had also applied sanctions against Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, in January. The next month, Vice President Mike Pence announced sanctions on Venezuelan governors who back Maduro.
Trump said last week he was considering heightening pressure against Maduro. When asked by a reporter if he was considering a blockade or quarantine of Venezuela to cut it off from Russian, Chinese and Iranian assistance, Trump said, "Yes, I am."