US hits 4 senior Venezuelan officials with sanctions

By LUIS ALONSO LUGOMarketsAssociated Press

The Trump administration imposed sanctions Friday on four senior Venezuelan military officials for alleged corruption and repression, in a bid to raise the pressure on President Nicolas Maduro's government.

Among those targeted in the Treasury Department's action are Rodolfo Marco Torres, a retired general who is now Aragua state's governor, and Francisco Rangel Gomez, another former general and previous governor of Bolivar state.

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The Associated Press last year collected documents and testimony from business owners describing Marco Torres, a former Venezuelan food minister, as a key figure involved in fraudulent food imports.

The others affected by Friday's announcement are Fabio Zavarse Pabon, a division general of the Bolivarian National Guard, and Gerardo Izquierdo Torres, an Army major general who holds other senior positions. Maduro has named many military officials to high-profile government positions.

"President Maduro and his inner circle continue to put their own interests above those of the Venezuelan people," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "This action underscores the United States' resolve to hold Maduro and others engaged in corruption in Venezuela accountable."

Any assets held by the men under U.S. jurisdictions are now frozen. Americans are banned from doing business with them.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza criticized the measure on Friday. He posted a message on Twitter saying the Venezuelan armed forces "will never subjugate to any foreign power. We demand respect for the Venezuelan people and its institutions."

Those sanctioned Friday are in addition to the dozens of current and former Venezuelan officials the U.S. already has targeted. They include Vice President Tareck El Aissami for alleged involvement in international drug trafficking. The U.S. also has imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela at a time it's seeking to refinance a huge international debt.

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