Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The United States on Tuesday blacklisted over a dozen aircraft used by the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as the Trump administration continues to ratchet up the pressure on the embattled president.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced in a statement that it was blocking 15 aircraft of the state-run oil and gas company Petroleos de Venezuela known as PDVSA for having transported senior members of the Maduro government.
According to the Treasury, Venezuelan Oil Minister Manuel Salvador Quevedo Fernandez flew upon one of the aircraft to an Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting last year in the United Arab Emirates while a different aircraft shuttled senior Maduro officials throughout 2019 while they misappropriated PDVSA assets.
Fernandez, who heads PDVSA, was listed by the United States as a Specially Designated National in February for being aligned with Maduro.
The aircraft have also been operated in an "unsafe and unprofessional manner" near U.S. military aircraft in international air space, the federal agency added.
"Several of these aircraft have been involved in the harassment of U.S. military flights in Caribbean airspace or have been used to transport senior member of the illegitimate Maduro regime, which continues to subject the people of Venezuela to brutal and dictatorial practices," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. "As a result of this action, U.S. persons are on notice that they may not transact with these aircraft."
"This action furthers U.S. efforts to use targeted sanctions and steady diplomacy to end Maduro's attempts to usurp power, and to support a Venezuelan transition to democracy, including free and fair presidential elections," Pompeo said.
The Trump administration has been applying increasing pressure on Maduro to step down after his 2018 re-election was deemed illegitimate early last year and opposition leader and National Assembly head Juan Guaido appointed himself interim president.
Nearly 60 countries have backed Guaido's claim to the country's helm but Maduro has continued to cling to power despite international pressure and sanctions in part due to support from Russia.
The announcement of sanctions comes a day after Guaido made a surprise visit to neighboring Colombia in defiance of a pro-Maduro supreme court-imposed travel ban.
While in the capital Bogota, he met with Pompeo, who reiterated the United State's support for his presidency.
During the meeting, Pompeo also told reporters that more sanctions were coming.