Washington: President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials , accusing them of perpetrating human rights violations and public corruption in the socialist-governed South American nation.
The individuals all come from the top echelon of the state security apparatus that was responsible for cracking down on anti-government protests that rocked Venezuela last year and for pursuing charges against leading opponents.
The US Congress passed legislation late last year authorizing sanctions that would freeze the assets and ban visas for anyone accused of carrying out acts of violence or violating the human rights of those opposing the Venezuela's government.
The White House says the sanctions announced Monday mark Obama's implementation of that bill.
Asked about the sanctions, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez told The Associated Press that her country will insist on a relationship with the US that is "based on respect and sovereign equality."
Tensions between the US and Venezuela have been on the rise. Last week, Venezuela gave the US two weeks to slash its diplomatic mission there to less than 20 percent of its current size. The US, in turn, has criticized Venezuela for its anti-American rhetoric.
Support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's socialist administration has fallen off sharply as Venezuela's economy has plunged deeper into crisis marked by widespread shortages and inflation over 60 percent. The president's approval rating in January stood at 22 percent, the lowest since the revolution started by the late President Hugo Chavez in 1999.
The list includes close allies of Chavez. Manuel Gregorio Bernal Mart?nez, who was head of Venezuela's intelligence service during the protest movement that swept Venezuela last year, participated in Chavez's 1992 coup attempt. The failed plot launched Chavez into national limelight and cemented the bona fides of his co-conspirers.
The sanctioned officials also include former members of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Guard, known as the GNB. The White House says GNB members have engaged in "significant acts of violence or conduct that constitutes a serious abuse or violation of human rights."
"In various cities in Venezuela, members of the GNB used force against peaceful protestors and journalists, including severe physical violence, sexual assault, and firearms," the White House said in a fact sheet on the sanctions.