The US has imposed financial sanctions on the son of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, saying he had profited illegally from mining and worked to increase censorship.
The Treasury department’s move against “Nicolasito” Maduro Guerra blocks any US assets he may hold and bans Americans from dealing with him. It is the latest in a series of moves by Washington targeting key members of Mr Maduro’s increasingly isolated government.
“Maduro relies on his son Nicolasito and others close to his authoritarian regime to maintain a stranglehold on the economy and suppress the people of Venezuela,” said Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary.
A burly 29-year-old with a strong resemblance to his father, the younger Mr Maduro began a career as a flute player, but his prospects transformed after his father succeeded Hugo Chávez as Venezuela’s leader in 2013. He is currently a member of the National Constituent Assembly, a rubber-stamp body created by the government to counteract the opposition-controlled and elected National Assembly.
US officials emphasised that sanctions against individuals come with a carrot as well as a stick: if the Venezuelan figures targeted decide to break with Mr Maduro and work to restore democracy, the measures may be lifted.
The latest person to benefit was the former head of Venezuelan intelligence, General Manuel Ricardo Figuera. Gen Figuera fled the country after taking part in a failed uprising on April 30. It emerged this week that he had landed in the US.
Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration’s special representative for Venezuela, told a press briefing that Gen Figuera was now out from under sanctions. He added: “When he left, we took the sanctions off, when he left the regime. So that’s a sign to other officials as to what their future might be if they do the same thing.”
US officials are becoming frustrated that broad financial sanctions against Venezuela, coupled with a ban on Venezuelan oil, have crippled the economy but so far failed to trigger the collapse of Mr Maduro’s government.
Washington has now sanctioned more than 100 senior Venezuelan government officials in an effort to encourage a peaceful transfer of power to Juan Guaidó, the opposition politician who is recognised as the rightful president by Washington and more than 50 other countries.
There was no immediate reaction from the Venezuelan government to the sanctions against Nicolasito Maduro, who describes himself on his Twitter feed as a “soldier of Chávez until beyond this life”.