Two days before presidential elections in Venezuela, the Trump administration on Friday announced sanctions against a powerful governing party politician, accusing him of drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and embezzling government money.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Council in Washington said that it had placed the politician, Diosdado Cabello, a top Socialist Party figure, on a list of sanctioned individuals, freezing his assets in the United States and barring Americans from doing business with him.
Cabello, 55, has long been considered the second-most powerful man in the country, after President Nicolás Maduro, who is running for re-election on Sunday.
The Treasury Department said that it was also imposing sanctions on Cabello’s brother, José David Cabello, 49, who runs the government agency in charge of customs and taxation, and Diosdado Cabello’s wife, Marleny Josefina Contreras Hernández, 57, the minister of tourism.
Also named in the announcement was Rafael Alfredo Sarria, 52, who the Treasury Department said acted as a front man for Cabello, channeling illicit money through real estate and businesses in Florida.
The timing of the announcement, so close to the Venezuelan election, could energize Maduro’s voting base. Maduro routinely accuses the United States of seeking to overthrow his government and says that Venezuela’s extreme economic problems, with a drastic contraction in economic production and the world’s highest inflation, are the result of an “economic war” being waged against the country by Washington.
Diosdado Cabello posted a message on his Twitter account dismissing the “immoral sanctions of imperialism” and adding that “it only shows we’re going in the right direction.”
Cabello, a former governor and legislator who was close to Hugo Chávez, is seen as wielding significant power behind the scenes, but his star may have faded recently as Mr. Maduro seeks to diminish his potential rivals within the government and the Socialist Party.
Maduro created a new party, called We Are Venezuela, to act as his main political vehicle ahead of the election, displacing the Socialist Party that Cabello largely controls.