The Trump administration announced sanctions on Wednesday against Venezuela, intended to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to drop plans for a controversial election.
The sanctions target 13 current or former officials from Maduro's government, freezing their U.S. assets and preventing Americans from doing business with them, the AP reports.
"These sanctions are a fresh attempt to persuade Maduro to cancel Sunday's elections for a new assembly that'll have the power to rewrite Venezuela's constitution," according to NPR's Phillip Reeves. "The election is set up in a way that all but ensures the assembly will be packed with Maduro supporters."
U.S. officials warned that tougher measures could be coming, Reuters reports: "The most serious option is financial sanctions that would halt dollar payments for the country's oil or a total ban on oil imports to the United States, a top cash-paying client."
As The Two-Way's Camila Domonoske reported last week, "Venezuela is one of the largest foreign suppliers of oil to the U.S., accounting for nearly 10 percent of total imports. The Trump administration says it is mindful of the impact that restricting those imports could have on U.S. oil refineries and retail gas prices but adds that it is prepared to make tough decisions if forced to."
The sanctions were announced as a two-day national strike began in the country, organized by opposition groups.
"Highways were mostly empty and businesses shuttered across the country as millions of people observed the 48-hour strike and activists threw up roadblocks in many neighborhoods to keep others from getting to work," The Associated Press reports. "By late afternoon, clashes between police and protesters erupted at some roadblocks in Caracas, and the chief prosecutor's office reported at least one person killed." At least 98 people have died in the four months of demonstrations, according to the AP.
It's the second national strike in a week, after millions took part in last Thursday's strike.
"The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles," President Trump declared last week. "If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions."
What the protesters want now, Bloomberg's Andrew Rosati told Morning Edition from Caracas, is to halt the impending constituent assembly: "And on top of that, the main demand from the opposition is a new round of free and fair elections. They want international observers to come to make sure that these elections are genuine."