U.S. Freezes Assets of Seven Venezuelan Officials

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from The Wall Street Journal,

President Obama declares Venezuela a national-security threat.

President Barack Obama declared Venezuela a national-security threat and froze the assets of seven senior officials over alleged rights abuses and political repression.

The move raised tensions between the countries. Venezuela on Monday recalled its most senior envoy to Washington, Maximilien Arvelaíz, for consultations. Diosdado Cabello, head of the National Assembly and considered the second most powerful man in Venezuela, said the sanctions herald a U.S. invasion.

“I want to alert the world, and you have to take this very seriously, comrades, and the party should mobilize in every corner of Venezuela to thoroughly repel the intentions of American imperialism,” he said in a speech. “Because what is coming and what is being planned are attacks on our land, on our country, military attacks.”

The socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro routinely accuses the U.S. of trying to orchestrate a coup. Last week, it demanded the U.S. cut its diplomatic mission in the country to 17 people from more than 100.

The sanctions are linked to a violent crackdown on antigovernment protests that swept the country last year and left 43 people dead.

The seven officials, who include the current heads of the country’s secret police and national police force, were in charge during those protests when security forces fatally shot a number of demonstrators.

The move puts all seven officials on a U.S. government blacklist that freezes any assets in the U.S. and prohibits American citizens from dealing with them.

Declaring a country a national-security threat is a formality that allow the U.S. government to impose sanctions on individuals or other countries.

Mr. Obama’s executive order comes amid a deepening economic crisis in oil-rich Venezuela following years of economic mismanagement and a recent plunge in oil prices. The country has the world’s highest inflation rate—at 70% and rising—the world’s second-highest homicide rate and widespread shortages of consumer goods. Mr. Maduro’s approval rating has sunk to the low 20s.

The crisis has prompted the government to crack down harder on dissent, analysts say. Last month, police fatally shot a 14-year-old boy during a protest in the city of San Cristobal shortly after the government issued a new decree permitting security forces to use lethal force against antigovernment demonstrations. Also last month, the opposition mayor of Caracas was jailed on charges of conspiring against the government. Katherine Haringhton, the prosecutor handling the case of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, was also on the sanctions list, and the only person not linked to security services.

Oriette Schandendorf, Mr. Ledezma’s stepdaughter, welcomed the sanctions as evidence that the outside world cares about human rights in Venezuela.

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