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US imposes more sanctions on Venezuela but no oil ban

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, center left, and his wife Cilia Flores, center right, wave next to electoral candidates after the first results of the controversial election for a constituent assembly on the Bolivar square in Caracas, Venezuela, on July 31, 2017. (Manu Quintero/DPA/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration imposed fresh economic sanctions on the leftist government of Venezuela on Monday in a move aimed in part at stopping use of digital currency, but did not impose a long-threatened ban on the country’s oil exports.

U.S. officials say Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s cash-strapped government has introduced a digital currency called the Petro to circumvent sanctions and to conceal how much it has bankrupted the once-thriving economy.

“President Maduro decimated the Venezuelan economy and spurred a humanitarian crisis,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “Instead of correcting course to avoid further catastrophe, the Maduro regime is attempting to circumvent sanctions through the Petro digital currency.”

The petro is meant to be backed by still-unexploited barrels of crude oil, the Maduro government has said, and thus help replenish government coffers. Few economists gave the scheme much chance of success.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday outlawing trading in the Venezuelan digital currency by U.S. citizens or businesses.

In addition, the Treasury Department sanctioned four senior current or former Venezuelan officials, including the acting head of the National Treasury Office. U.S. individuals and companies are barred from doing business with them, and any assets they have in the U.S. would be frozen.

The Trump administration, and the Obama administration before it, have imposed a long string of economic sanctions on Venezuela in response to its human rights abuses and autocratic policies.

The Trump White House also was considering a ban on the export and import of Venezuelan oil but found little support for the idea in Latin America because so many of the region’s economies rely on Venezuelan oil and gas.

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