The U.S. government sanctioned more than a dozen senior Venezuelan officials on Wednesday, just four days before the nation is set to elect a constituent assembly to rewrite its constitution. The election has been heavily criticized by members of Venezuela’s opposition party, who accuse Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of plotting to gain sweeping control over the nation and its democratically-elected congress. Last week, around 7.5 million Venezuelans participated a symbolic referendum vote to reject Maduro’s plan, with nearly all participants voting against the constituent assembly.
The assembly has also been denounced by numerous world leaders, including former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who was banned from Venezuela after attending the referendum vote alongside other Latin American officials. In a statement issued by the White House last week, U.S. President Trump praised the referendum’s “huge turnout” and threatened to “take strong and swift economic actions” against the Venezuelan government if the constituent assembly is elected on Sunday. Tuesday’s sanctions, which freeze the U.S. assets of 13 Venezuelan officials and bar them from conducting business with U.S. entities, appear to be an effort to deter Maduro allies from participating in the constitutional rewrite.