The Trump administration turned the screws on the socialist regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday after the Treasury Department imposed a new round of sanctions against the South American nation.
The sanctions, the second round since President Trump took office in January, targeted eight members of that country’s Supreme Court and accused them of usurping the authority of Venezuela’s democratically-elected legislature, which is ruled by a majority of opposition members.
“The Venezuelan people are suffering from a collapsing economy brought about by their government’s mismanagement and corruption,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a press release.
The sanctions were delivered a day after Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, forced members of the UN Security Council to hold a closed-door meeting on Venezuela, even though several members were against it.
“We are starting to see serious instability in Venezuela,” Haley told reporters.
Maduro’s government has been faced with almost daily protests since his Supreme Court signed an order that stripped the Venezuelan congress of its powers in March of this year. Protesters are fed up with what they say is rampant corruption, spiraling inflation, food and medical shortages and a president who is refusing their calls for new elections.
Haley said that some of her council colleagues felt Venezuela should be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council. While sympathetic to the idea, she reminded members that Venezuela is a member of the UN rights body and has blocked any talk of its human rights situation.
“We’ve seen dozens killed, we’ve seen many injured, we’ve seen 150 political prisoners, over 1,500 arrests – and clearly we are starting to see serious instability in Venezuela,” Haley said after the two-hour meeting.
Haley said she didn’t call the meeting to be “heavy-handed,” or to take any Security Council actions. But, she said, it was time to bring up the issue of Venezuela to prevent another crisis – Syria and North Korea were brought up as examples – from occurring.
“Why not get in front of this,” she said. “Why not try and stop a problem before it starts?”
Several Security Council members were not supportive of the U.S. move. Uruguay’s UN Ambassador, Elbio Rosselli, who is this month’s Security Council president, said he supported a regional approach to the situation.
“With all the difficult situations in the world, the best qualified are the regional organizations because they are more familiar with the issues,” Rosselli said.
Haley said the U.S. supports and encourages a regional political solution to the Venezuelan crisis. But, she added, when such a solution was proposed by the Organization of American States (OAS), Venezuela withdrew from it.
“We are not for the opposition. We are not for President Maduro. We are for the Venezuelan people. We are saying show respect to the Venezuelan people. They need to have free and fair elections,” she said. “They need to release all political prisoners. The humanitarian situation needs to be addressed.”
Venezuelan UN Ambassador Rafael Ramirez, whose country is not presently a member of the powerful UN body, said that he rejected his country being brought up at the Security Council and accused the U.S. and others of trying to intervene in his country’s affairs.
“We are responsible for our own people,” he said, “but that means it’s an internal issue.”
Another person was killed on Thursday during an anti-government protest, bringing the death toll to 45 since the marches began April 1st.
Haley urged the Venezuelan government to listen to its people and warned that if it doesn’t, the council could take action.
“If that doesn’t happen,” she said, “we will certainly be hearing this in the Security Council because it will be a problem not just in the region but internationally.”
Ben Evansky reports for Fox News on the United Nations and international affairs.
He can be followed @BenEvansky