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The Treasury Department sanctioned eight judges on Venezuela's supreme court Thursday, shortly after President Donald Trump said the constitutional and economic crisis in the country was "a disgrace to humanity."
The sanctions were imposed for a high court ruling earlier this year that stripped power from Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress. The decision, which the United States called a "serious setback for democracy," brought international condemnation and led the court to partially reverse it.
The judges who are punished include the supreme court's president, Maikel Moreno, and the seven principal judges on the court's constitutional chamber: Juan José Mendoza, Arcadio de Jesús Delgado, Gladys Gutiérrez, Carmen Zuleta de Merchán, Luis Fernando Damiani Bustillos, Lourdes Benicia Suárez Anderson and Calixto Ortega.
Under the sanctions, any money they have in U.S. banks is frozen, and it is illegal for U.S. citizens to conduct any transactions with them. They also are prohibited from getting visas to travel to the United States.
The sanctions aim to change the behavior of the officials in the government of President Nicolás Maduro. The collapse of the economy in the oil-rich country has brought escalating rounds of large protests by Venezuelans who don't have money to buy food. More than 40 people have died in the past six weeks.
Trump, in remarks to reporters after he met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House Thursday afternoon, mentioned the situation in Venezuela several times.
"People don't have enough to eat. People have no food. There's great violence," Trump said, noting Venezuela's potential wealth because of its vast oil reserves.
"But it's been unbelievably poorly run for a long period of time," he continued. "And hopefully that will change, and they can use those assets for the good, and to take care of their people, because right now, what's happening is really a - a disgrace to humanity."
Administration officials, talking anonymously to reporters under White House rules, said Venezuela's supreme court, which is a bastion of Maduro support, had been a major player in violating democratic norms and creating human suffering.
"Venezuela is a disaster," one officials said. "It's become an autocracy. People are suffering because of bad leadership, and bad leadership alone."
The officials called for Maduro to respect the Venezuelan constitution, hold national elections and stop using violence against the protesters.
The sanctions were imposed the same day when one of Maduro's main opponents, Henrique Capriles, said he was prevented from boarding a plane to fly to the United nations and denounce the government's human rights violations. A local governor, Capriles was considered a potential candidate for president, but he has been banned from holding office for 15 years.
Keywords: national security, Venezuela Supreme Court sanctions, Venezuela sanctions, Trump venezuela