The U.S. blacklisted Venezuela's central bank and the son of Nicaragua's president Wednesday as the Trump administration continues to ramp up financial pressure on Venezuela and its regional allies.
The central bank was blacklisted, the U.S. said, "for operating in the financial sector of the Venezuelan economy" in violation of sanctions law. Iliana Josefa Ruzza Teran, whom the Treasury Department said is its director, was also sanctioned.
"Treasury is designating the Central Bank of Venezuela to prevent it from being used as a tool of the illegitimate Maduro regime, which continues to plunder Venezuelan assets and exploit government institutions to enrich corrupt insiders," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing the new penalties.
He was referring to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is locked in a political stalemate with opposition leader Juan Guaido who declared himself interim president in January amid a spiraling humanitarian and economic crisis in the Latin American nation.
The U.S. quickly threw its diplomatic support behind Guaido, calling on other nations to follow suit while imposing economic sanctions on the Venezuelan government as well as taking other punitive measures against its leaders.
Most countries in the Americas and Europe have followed Washington's lead in recognizing Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
Maduro, however, has refused to hand over control of the country, insisting he is targeted by a U.S.-orchestrated coup.
Mnuchin said that while the decision to impose sanctions on Venezuela's central will curtail "most Central Bank activities" undertaken by the Venezuelan government, Washington "has taken steps to ensure that regular debit and credit card transactions can proceed and personal remittances and humanitarian assistance continue unabated."
Treasury also designated Laureano Ortega Murillo, the son of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, and Nicaraguan bank Banco Corporativo, or BanCorp.
It said the action was taken to target "corrupt financial operations and Ortega regime support network."
Nicaragua is one of about a half-dozen Latin American nations who have declined recognition of Guaido.
Treasury said BanCorp was created as a subsidiary of a private company owned by Venezuela's state-owned oil company, which was sanctioned shortly after Guaido announced himself interim leader.
Treasury further alleges Bancorp is used by Ortega's ruling party to launder money.
By Michael Hernandez in Washington