The United States froze all Venezuelan government assets Monday in a dramatic escalation of tensions with Nicolás Maduro that places his socialist administration alongside a shortlist of adversaries from Cuba, North Korea, Syria and Iran that have been targeted by such aggressive U.S. actions.
The ban blocking American companies and individuals from doing business with Maduro’s government and its top supporters, which takes effect immediately, is the first of its kind in the western hemisphere in over three decades, following an asset freeze against Gen. Manuel Noriega’s government in Panama and a trade embargo on the Sandinista leadership in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
While the order falls short of an outright trade embargo — notably, it spares Venezuela’s still sizable private sector — it represents the most sweeping U.S. action to remove Maduro since the Trump administration recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader in January. Critically, it also exposes foreign entities doing business with the Maduro government to U.S. retaliation.
“The apparent goal is to give the U.S. the ability to apply the law beyond its borders to allies of Maduro like China, Russia, Cuba, Iran and Turkey,” said Russ Dallen, the Miami-based head of Caracas Capital Markets brokerage. “Should those foreign entities continue doing business with Maduro they can have their U.S. assets seized.”
The executive order signed by President Donald Trump justified the move by citing Maduro’s “continued usurpation of power” and human rights abuses by security forces loyal to him.