President Trump issued a new executive order Friday aimed at preventing Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro's "rampant plundering" of his nation's assets.
"[Maduro's] officials are now resorting to opaque financing schemes and liquidating the country's assets at fire sale prices," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a Friday statement. "We will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles."
Trump's order prohibits the sale of Venezuelan government debt and seeks to block related revenue streams for the Venezuelan government.
But it makes exceptions for some business dealings "to mitigate harm to the American and Venezuelan people." Deals that involve financing for energy exports will continue, for instance, and transitions involving the government-owned Citgo are also excepted from the order.
"These measures are carefully calibrated to deny the Maduro dictatorship a critical source of financing to maintain its illegitimate rule, protect the United States financial system from complicity in Venezuela's corruption and in the impoverishment of the Venezuelan people, and allow for humanitarian assistance," Sanders said.
Maduro, the political heir to the late Hugo Chavez, has taken a series of dramatic steps to weaken the Venezuelan constitution and break the power of his political opponents. Most recently, he forced through a political referendum that established a legislative-style body that will rewrite the constitution.
At the same time, Venezuela has labored through an economic crisis that has produced food shortages and protests. As a result, Venezuela has emerged as a focal point of rare bipartisan unity around Trump's foreign policy.
"I strongly support U.S. efforts to hold Nicolás Maduro and his cronies accountable while ensuring that the Venezuelan people — who have already suffered for far too long — are not forced to bear any further pain," New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top House Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Friday. "As the sanctions are implemented, President Trump must ensure that they have the appropriate impact and adjust them as necessary."
Sen. Marco Rubio, Trump's rival during the 2016 Republican primaries, also praised the move.
"I commend the Trump administration for taking decisive and significant action to prevent the Maduro regime from using Wall Street to finance its repression and tyranny," the Florida lawmaker said. "The United States remains committed to supporting the cause of freedom and democracy in Venezuela."
Maduro has found support from Cuban dictator Raul Castro, a traditional ally, and more recently from Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose team has faulted the United States for previous sanctions efforts.
"Those external players who are setting the opposition up for confrontation, including the use of force, with the authorities are hindering the efforts of those who are sincerely interested in bringing peace, tranquillity and stability to Venezuela," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday.
Trump's team wants Venezuela's neighbors to join the U.S. effort to isolate the regime.
"The United States reiterates our call that Venezuela restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression of the Venezuelan people," Sanders said. "We continue to stand with the people of Venezuela during these trying times."