WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States went after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's inner circle on Tuesday (Sept 25), imposing sanctions on his wife, vice-president and other close associates.
President Donald Trump said the penalties were aimed at the "repressive regime" in Caracas that is responsible for a "human tragedy" in the once oil-rich nation.
The US Treasury named Cilia Adela Flores de Maduro, a former attorney general and the president's wife, as one of the figures who has helped Maduro retain his grip on power, along with Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.
"Currently we are witnessing the human tragedy" in Venezuela, Trump told the United Nations General Assembly. "More than two million people have fled the anguish inflicted by the socialist Maduro regime and its Cuban sponsors."
He said Maduro's socialism "has bankrupted the oil-rich nation and driven its people into abject poverty."
Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the situation in Venezuela "is one of our foreign policy priorities," and Ottawa is urging action to help with the growing refugee crisis and its impact on neighbouring Colombia.
The "migration crisis coming out of Venezuela is not just a local problem, it has to be a problem for our hemisphere and really a global problem," Freeland said at an event on the sidelines of the UN assembly.
"There are a lot of people who are fleeing Venezuela, and these people, in addition to being poor and hungry, many of them are really sick and have illnesses which we thought had been eradicated."
She also said sanctions against the regime are needed.
"The Venezuelan leadership needs to know that actions have consequences," Freeland said. "And all of us need to continue to let the people of Venezuela know that they have our support."
The other Venezuelan officials US Treasury targeted with sanctions were described as members of Maduro's inner circle - Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez.
"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," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Those hit with sanctions will have any assets or property in the United States seized - including a Gulfstream 200 private jet located in Florida and owned by Rafael Sarria Diaz, named as a front man - and US institutions are prohibited from doing business with them.
Maduro already was hit with the same penalties on July 31, 2017, as was Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly (ANC).
Treasury said the sanctions could be lifted if the officials "take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the government, and combat corruption in Venezuela."
Some 2.3 million Venezuelans, or 7.5 per cent of the population, live abroad with the number sharply growing in the past several years as hyperinflation slashes the worth of salaries and makes necessities prohibitively expensive, according to the UN.