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Trump issues new sanctions against Venezuelan digital currency

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)

President Donald Trump imposed new sanctions against the Venezuelan government Monday targeting the government’s new digital currency.

The measures were spelled out in an executive order Trump signed blocking U.S. financial transactions involving Venezuela’s version of the “bitcoin” created last month as a means to get around U.S. sanctions.

The order specifically targets “any transaction that evades or avoids” previous United States measures against the government of Venezuela. The new sanctions are part of a larger package of measures that also include four individual sanctions against Venezuelan financial officials.

President Nicolas Maduro launched the first-ever government-backed cryptocurrency last month to boost capital and circumvent previous U.S. sanctions against the regime.

At the time, U.S. lawmakers like Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., quickly raised concerns the digital cryptocurrency could provide Venezuela a mechanism to make payments to foreign lenders and bondholders in the United States.

Rubio and Nelson quickly praised the administration’s “swift response” to block the transactions.

“This move against corrupt officials in the Maduro regime targets their ability to use cryptocurrencies to circumvent U.S. and international sanctions,” Rubio said. “I commend the President and his administration for continuing to take action against efforts by the illegitimate Maduro regime to exploit illicit financial lifelines.”

“Maduro is responsible for persistent human rights violations, political repression and the jailing of opponents, undermining democratic institutions, corruption, and widespread economic deprivation, and we must do more hold the regime accountable for these atrocious crimes,” Nelson said.

The United States has been increasing the pressure on the Maduro regime, including imposing sanctions against more than 20 current and former Venezuelan government officials in recent months. The White House has also blocked prohibited U.S. banks from purchasing new Venezuelan deb, starving Maduro’s government of much-needed cash.

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves, but the once mighty nation has plummeted into a deepening economic crisis amid rising inflation.

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© 2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.