(AFP – Getty Images)
The United States is planning "strong and swift" sanctions against the leftist government of Venezuela if it moves ahead with plans to rewrite its constitution and weaken its democracy.
New sanctions aimed at crippling major players in Venezuela’s political and economic arenas would be the Trump administration’s latest steps to punish the South American country.
"The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles," Trump said in a statement Tuesday.
Venezuelans opposed to the government of President Nicolas Maduro held a symbolic referendum on Sunday, voting overwhelmingly to stop efforts to change the political system and allow the current administration to stay in office indefinitely.
Trump and other western countries called on Maduro to respect that vote.
Venezuelans’ "strong and courageous actions continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator," Trump said.
But the Venezuelan government plans its own election July 30 to create a constituent assembly that would rewrite the constitution. Maduro insisted Tuesday he would not be "intimidated" by what he saw as threats from Washington and others.
Once an oil-rich, wealthy nation, Venezuela has descended into severe poverty, shortages of basic goods and violent anti-government demonstrations because of bad management by Maduro, the fall in oil prices and a corrupt system profiting off of drug-trafficking.
A senior Trump administration official, briefing reporters Tuesday on condition of anonymity to discuss planning, said "all options" were on the table to pressure Venezuela.
The administration is planning "strong and swift" sanctions against unspecified Venezuelan officials, the official said.
The official said Trump has been extremely concerned about Venezuela’s plight, though it is unclear why the president has taken such a strong interest.
Issues of human rights and democracy have not been a priority of the administration so far. It may be that Trump has been convinced that Venezuela has served as a gateway for Iran to make inroads in the Americas.
One of the Venezuelans previously sanctioned by the United States, Vice President Tareck el Aissami, has been accused by the U.S. of being a drug trafficker with ties to the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The United States also sanctioned members of the Venezuelan Supreme Court who are seen as rubber-stamp supporters of Maduro.
President Trump, left, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was appointed by former President Obama. Irakly (Ike) Kaveladze, from his Twitter account. (Twitter) (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press) President Trump speaks about the Senate healthcare bill at the the White House on Tuesday. (Associated Press) (Associated Press / 2009) (AP file photo) (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)