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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks at a news briefing at the White House, where he announced new sanctions against V...

Why the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela

President Donald Trump imposed new financial sanctions against Venezuela on Friday, a response to President Nicolas Maduro convening a special assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution — seen by the U.S. and its allies as his attempt to grab more presidential powers.

Why this round of sanctions?

During a recent visit to Colombia, Vice President Mike Pence said, “we will not stand by while Venezuela collapses into dictatorship.”

Despite vast oil reserves, the South American country of 31 million people has widespread shortages of food and basic necessities, along with triple-digit inflation.

The PBS NewsHour reports on Venezuelans living in a declining economy.

“The Maduro dictatorship continues to deprive the Venezuelan people of food and medicine, imprison the democratically elected opposition, and violently suppress freedom of speech. The regime’s decision to create an illegitimate Constituent Assembly — and most recently to have that body usurp the powers of the democratically elected National Assembly –represents a fundamental break in Venezuela’s legitimate constitutional order,” according to a White House statement.

What do the sanctions do? The sanctions are meant to block banks from dealing with the government of Venezuela and the state-run oil and natural gas company PDVSA.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin added at a White House press conference Friday that the action was focused on restricting the Maduro regime’s access to American debt and equity markets. “Maduro may no longer take advantage of the American financial system to facilitate the wholesale looting of the Venezuelan economy at the expense of the Venezuelan people,” he said.

Watch the full press conference:

What does Venezuela say? Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Friday at the United Nations that the new U.S. financial sanctions are “the worst aggressions to Venezuela in the last 200 years, maybe.” He asked if Americans “want to starve the Venezuelan people” and said his government wouldn’t let the U.S. “create a humanitarian crisis,” according to the Associated Press.

Reaction on Capitol Hill: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., praised Trump for the decision, saying in a statement that in Venezuela, “men, women and children are starving, but their government continues to focus on consolidating power. I applaud the administration for today’s actions to deny Maduro additional financing to line the pockets of his enablers, and further shore up his dictatorship. We must continue to stand with the people of Venezuela –- and with our allies –- to restore democracy and basic human rights.”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who recently criticized President Trump for lacking the “stability” and “competence” to be president, applauded Friday’s sanctions in a tweeted statement. He said, in part, “these carefully calibrated sanctions send a strong signal to the Maduro regime while still allowing for much needed humanitarian assistance”: