U.S. Steps Up Venezuela Pressure and Sanctions Maduro's Wife

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. sanctioned Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s wife and several close associates in an escalation of Trump administration efforts to punish the socialist regime for corruption and anti-democratic practices.

Cilia Flores de Maduro, 61, is the first lady, a former attorney general and head of the National Assembly. Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez, as well as Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino were also included.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday shortly after the penalties were announced that his administration is looking at further sanctions “very strongly.”

“What is going on in Venezuela really is unacceptable,” Trump said later Tuesday during a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez at the United Nations. "The Maduro regime is obviously not doing the job.”

U.S. pressure on Maduro has increased as the South American nation deals with hyperinflation that’s expected to reach one million percent by the end of the year, vast food shortages and collapsing oil production. The leftist leader is widely unpopular but has clung to power through what the U.S. says are rigged elections and corruption.

“President Maduro relies on his inner circle to maintain his grip on power, as his regime systematically plunders what remains of Venezuela’s wealth,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “We are continuing to designate loyalists who enable Maduro to solidify his hold on the military and the government while the Venezuelan people suffer. Treasury will continue to impose a financial toll on those responsible for Venezuela’s tragic decline, and the networks and front-men they use to mask their illicit wealth.”

Maduro described the latest sanctions as a “useless” attempt at intimidation by penalizing his loved ones. “Her only offense is being married to me,” Maduro said of Flores in a televised address on Tuesday. “If you want to attack, attack me. Don’t mess with Cilia and don’t mess with the family. Don’t be cowards."

Maduro confidants

In recent years, the Rodriguez siblings have become some of the closest confidants of the president. Delcy Rodriguez, 49, who Maduro tapped as his top deputy in June, has held a number of key posts including president of the all-powerful consistent assembly and foreign minister, a role in which she became known for her harangues against so-called imperialist efforts to isolate Venezuela.

Jorge Rodriguez was previously the mayor of Caracas and the head of the electoral authority before being named to his current post earlier this year. Vladimir Padrino Lopez is known for hitting back against Trump’s suggestions of military intervention in the Caribbean nation.

The Treasury Department also blacklisted a lone Gulfstream jet stationed in Florida which is allegedly linked to Rafael Sarria, who is accused of running an illegal network of businesses to illicitly obtain funds.

Separately, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators including Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin introduced a bill this week seeking to expand humanitarian relief and increase pressure on Venezuela.

“I wish we had not reached this desperate moment,” Durbin said in an emailed statement. “I will continue to support pressure on this corrupt regime and sanctioning those responsible for the Venezuela’s misery.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.