Washington (AFP) - The United States on Friday slapped sanctions on a key Venezuelan bank, BANDES and four affiliates over their support for President Nicolas Maduro.
The US move came just hours after Maduro's regime defied the United States and arrested a top aide of opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom Washington recognizes as the crisis-hit country's interim leader.
Venezuelan Interior Minister Nestor Reverol accused the aide, Roberto Marrero, a 49-year-old lawyer who serves as Guaido's chief of staff, of leading a "terrorist cell" bent on attacking the government's leadership.
The companies sanctioned are BANDES, a state-controlled bank; Banco Bandes Uruguay; Banco Bicentenario del Pueblos; Banco Universal SA Banco de Venezuela; and Banco Prodem SA, of Bolivia.
"All property and interests in property of these entities, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by this entity, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC," the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) statement said.
"Maduro and his enablers have distorted the original purpose of the bank, which was founded to help the economic and social wellbeing of the Venezuelan people, as part of a desperate attempt to hold onto power," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
"Roberto Marrero and other political prisoners must be released immediately," Mnuchin stressed.
National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Twitter that "BANDES bank is to Venezuela’s financial sector what PDVSA is to its oil sector. This action will severely affect any attempted currency movements by Maduro and his cronies moving forward. Do not test the resolve of this Administration."
The United States has repeatedly warned Maduro's government against arresting Guaido or his close aides, saying it would face unspecified repercussions.
US President Donald Trump reiterated this week he was considering "all options" at his disposal to see Maduro dislodged and Guaido installed in power, implying military action if he deemed it necessary.
US Vice President Mike Pence said in an op-ed in the Miami Herald Friday that "Nicolas Maduro must go."
A UN spokesman Thursday expressed "concern" at the arrest, urging "all actors in Venezuela to take immediate steps to lower tensions and refrain from any action that could lead to further escalation."