BOGOTA, Colombia — The U.S. has slapped new sanctions on eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, accusing them of abusing power and damaging their nation’s democratic fabric as the Trump administration raises concerns that socialist President Nicolas Maduro is moving toward one-party, authoritarian rule.
Those blacklisted by the Treasury Department include Maikel Moreno, the president of the pro-government Supreme Court, as well as all seven justices who signed a ruling in late March stripping the opposition-controlled congress of its last remaining powers.
“The Venezuelan people are suffering from a collapsing economy brought about by their government’s mismanagement and corruption. Members of the country’s Supreme Court of Justice have exacerbated the situation by consistently interfering with the legislative branch’s authority,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said. “By imposing these targeted sanctions, the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country.”
The action marked second time the Trump administration has stripped high-level Venezuelan officials of their U.S. assets and banned Americans from any business dealings with them. In February, the U.S. ordered sanctions against Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking.
Earlier Thursday, Mr. Trump expressed dismay about Venezuela’s troubles, asking aloud how a nation sitting atop the world’s largest oil reserves could be stricken by so much poverty and unrest.
“You sort of have to wonder: Why is that happening? How is that possible? Hopefully that will change and they can use those assets for the good. Because right now what’s happening is really a disgrace to humanity,” Mr. Trump said after meeting at the White House with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court has long been packed with government loyalists, some of dubious legal qualifications.
Moreno first gained notoriety as an attorney defending a group of supporters of then President Hugo Chavez who fired into a crowd during a 2002 coup attempt. Moreno was later accused by an exiled Supreme Court magistrate of belonging to the so-called “Band of Dwarf Judges” that worked hand in glove with top administration officials to manipulate cases. In 2006, he was removed from a lower court bench but later named to a diplomatic post in Rome.
Another sanctioned magistrate, Calixto Ortega, is a long-time diplomat who was sent by Maduro in 2014 to Aruba to negotiate the release of a retired army general who had been arrested by the Netherlands, which runs the Caribbean island’s foreign affairs, on a U.S. drug warrant. He was named to the Supreme Court after losing a race for congress in 2015 congressional elections that the opposition won by a landslide.
The judges’ devotion to the government is indisputable. The court’s constitutional chamber declared null and void…