The Treasury Department announced new sanctions on three Venezuelans as the U.S. ratchets up pressure on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has overseen a crackdown on protesters amid an economic crisis fueled by rapid inflation.
The sanctions targets include Pedro Luis Martin Olivares, a former Venezuelan intelligence official now under indictment in Florida on drug trafficking charges. The penalties also cover two people identified as his associates, Walter Alexander Del Nogal Marquez and Mario Antonio Rodriguez Espinoza, along with 20 companies in Venezuela and Panama the Treasury Department says are owned or controlled by the three.
The three people were designated for sanctions under a U.S. law targeting narcotics kingpins.
The Treasury Department said in a statement that Martin used his government position to accept bribes from drug traffickers, and helped facilitate the movement of multi-ton loads of cocaine through Venezuelan airspace. The 20 companies — of which 16 are based in Venezuela — were used to launder illicit proceeds from the drug trade, according to the statement.
“This action is in response to Martin’s extensive drug trafficking and money laundering activities. Systemic corruption and a collapse in the rule of law are defining features of Venezuela’s government,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement. “We will deny corrupt Venezuelan regime officials access to the U.S. financial system as we work with international partners to support the Venezuelan people in restoration of democracy and a return to prosperity.”
The sanctions are the latest in a series of financial penalties the Trump Administration has imposed on the Maduro government. In March, the U.S. banned purchases of a cryptocurrency the Venezuelan government rolled out. In August, the administration froze assets of eight current and former Venezuelan officials, including Adan Chavez, brother of the late president Hugo Chavez, and Hermann Escarra, a constitutional adviser to Maduro. And earlier last year, the administration took the unusual step of sanctioning Maduro directly after he proceeded with a vote on a new assembly that was a first step to revise the constitution.