(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. sanctioned Venezuelan lawmaker Luis Parra and officials who tried to block Juan Guaido, whom the Trump administration has recognized as the country’s rightful leader, from being re-elected president of its National Assembly.
Parra, 41, was once Guaido’s ally but turned on him and sided with President Nicolas Maduro this month in a bid to take over the Assembly. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said in a web posting Monday that Parra and seven other Venezuelans had been added to its sanctions list.
“Treasury has designated seven corrupt National Assembly officials who, at the bidding of Maduro, attempted to block the democratic process in Venezuela,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “These and other designated officials can have sanctions removed if they side with the people of Venezuela and Juan Guaido as their legitimate leader.”
Maduro’s security forces stopped many opposition lawmakers from entering the National Assembly on Jan. 5, forcing Guaido to hold an off-site election where 100 deputies voted to re-elect him as head of the legislative body.
Days later, the opposition lawmakers pushed past armed guards to reclaim the assembly. Electricity was cut off at one point, prompting lawmakers to read the attendance list with the help of mobile phone lights and without microphones. Outside, armed civilian groups known as colectivos cornered and forcibly removed a group of journalists and lawmakers, beating and stealing from some of those gathered.
The attempted takeover of what was Venezuela’s last democratic institution has deepened the standoff between Maduro and Guaido, who last year was recognized as the legitimate leader by more than 50 countries.
“It’s unacceptable that foreign countries are trying to condition the actions and free thinking of our lawmakers,” Parra said in a statement rejecting the sanctions.
While Parra said in an interview last week that he had “a permanent channel of communication” with the U.S. since he claimed the presidency of the assembly, special envoy to Venezuela for the U.S. government Elliot Abrams said his assertion was “absolutely false.”
Venezuela, a formerly prosperous petrostate, has spiraled into misery after decades of misrule under Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. The failure of their socialist program has been exacerbated by a plunge in oil prices and U.S. sanctions. Crucial oil infrastructure is defunct, hyperinflation has ravaged the economy and food and medicine are scarce.
(Updates with comments from Parra in the 7th paragraph.)
--With assistance from Patricia Laya and Alex Vasquez.
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