By Michael Hernandez
President Donald Trump levied new sanctions on Venezuela Monday following elections the U.S. has criticized as fraudulent.
The new economic penalties prevent U.S. nationals and individuals residing in the U.S. from buying debt owed to the government of Venezuela or engaging in financial transactions involving any entity in which the Venezuelan government owns more than a 50 percent share.
Critically, Trump's new executive order prevents U.S. citizens from buying Venezuela's state-owned public assets.
Trump said the new measures are aimed at ensuring Caracas cannot conduct "fire sales" of its "critical assets".
"This money belongs to the Venezuelan people," Trump said in a statement. "We call for the Maduro regime to restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression and economic deprivation of the Venezuelan people."
Venezuela continues to grapple with a widening economic crisis that has led to political instability, massive protests and food shortages.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro won a second term in office on Sunday, election officials announced, amid claims of vote-rigging.
Maduro, 55, won some 5.8 million votes, or 68 percent of the total, said Tibisay Lucena, head of the National Electoral Council.
Lucena said main opposition candidate Henri Falcon won 1.8 million votes, or 21.2 percent.
Falcon rejected the result, calling it “illegitimate” on social media.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence rejected the poll, calling it a "sham" that was "neither free nor fair".
"The illegitimate result of this fake process is a further blow to the proud democratic tradition of Venezuela," he said in a statement. "The United States will not sit idly by as Venezuela crumbles and the misery of their brave people continues."
Maduro first took office in 2013 after his predecessor Hugo Chavez died and is set to govern Venezuela for another six-year term, from January 2019 to 2025.