President Donald Trump imposed new sanctions against the Venezuelan government Monday targeting the government’s new digital currency.
The measures were spelled out in an executive order Trump signed blocking U.S. financial transactions involving Venezuela’s version of the “bitcoin” created last month as a means to get around U.S. sanctions.
The administration said any investment in the so-called Petro digital curency should be viewed as “directly supporting this dictatorship and its attempts to undermine democratic order in Venezuela.”
“The Petro is a desperate effort by a corrupt regime to defraud international investigators,” a senior administration official said on the announcement. “At face value, the Petro is a scam ripe for exploitation by corrupt regime insiders seeking to defraud international investors and ordinary Venezuelans.”
The order specifically targets “any transaction that evades or avoids” previous United States measures against the government of Venezuela. The new sanctions are part of a larger package of measures that also include four individual sanctions against Venezuelan financial officials.
President Nicolás Maduro launched the first ever government-backed cryptocurrency last month to boost capital and circumvent previous U.S. sanctions against the regime.
At the time, U.S. lawmakers like Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Bill Nelson, D-Fl., quickly raised concerns the digital cryptocurrency could provide Venezuela a mechanism to make payments to foreign lenders and bondholders in the United States.
The Senators quickly praised the administration’s “swift response” to block the transactions.
“This move against corrupt officials in the Maduro regime targets their ability to use cryptocurrencies to circumvent U.S. and international sanctions,” Rubio said. “I commend the President and his administration for continuing to take action against efforts by the illegitimate Maduro regime to exploit illicit financial lifelines, and encourage additional sanctions in the weeks to come.”
Citing the vast number of Venezuelan refugees filling the region, Menendez said the the international community must continue coordinated efforts to increase pressure on the Maduro regime.
“Beyond sanctions evasion, the Petro was hand-tailored to perpetuate the money laundering and plundering of public resources that has tragically led Venezuela to economic ruin,” Menendez said.
Nelson added: “Maduro is responsible for persistent human rights violations, political repression and the jailing of opponents, undermining democratic institutions, corruption, and widespread economic deprivation, and we must do more hold the regime accountable for these atrocious crimes.”
The United States has been increasing the pressure on the Maduro regime, including imposing sanctions against more than 20 current and former Venezuelan government officials in recent months. The White House has also blocked prohibited U.S. banks from purchasing new Venezuelan deb, starving Maduro’s government of much-needed cash.
Venezuela sits on the world's largest oil reserves, but the once mighty nation has plummeted into a deepening economic crisis amid rising inflation.