(CARACAS, Venezuela) — The Trump administration’s decision on Wednesday to slap sanctions on eight members of Venezuela’s all-powerful constitutional assembly brings to 30 the number of government loyalists targeted for human rights abuses and violations of democratic norms since anti-government protests began in April.
But even as the list of targeted individuals grows longer, promised economic sanctions have yet to materialize amid an outcry by the U.S. oil industry that a potential ban on petroleum imports from Venezuela — the third-largest supplier to the U.S. — would hurt U.S. jobs and drive up gas costs.
The sanctions announced Wednesday focused on current or former Venezuelan government officials accused by the U.S. of supporting President Nicolas Maduro’s creation of a special assembly charged with rewriting Venezuela’s constitution — a move the U.S. says is an attempt by Maduro to shore up his grip on power.
Since its election last month, the 545-member assembly has declared itself superior to all other government institutions and ousted Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, a vocal critic of Maduro.
The U.S. Treasury Department took the unusual step of sanctioning Maduro himself last month, freezing any assets he may have in the U.S. and blocking Americans from doing business with him.
The newest additions on Wednesday include Adan Chavez, the older brother of Hugo Chavez, who is credited with introducing the late president to Marxist ideology in the 1970s, and a national guard colonel lionized by the government after he physically shoved congress President Julio Borges during a heated exchange caught on video.
Former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, who is leading the assembly but has so far escaped being sanctioned, said the latest U.S. action seeks to “spread fear” among delegates and please government opponents she described as “criminals” and “unpatriotic.”
While most Venezuelan officials wear U.S. sanctions as a badge of honor — and are frequently rewarded with promotions as a result — Maduro faces a far greater threat if Trump follows through on economic sanctions against the OPEC nation.
For all of Maduro’s anti-capitalist rhetoric, Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, remains highly dependent on oil exports to the U.S., especially for importing food and medicine — items in short supply as crude prices have fallen and triple-digit inflation wreaks havoc on the economy.