Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro walks with his wife Cilia Flores upon their arrival at the airport in Beijing. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

NEW YORK/CARACAS - The United States imposed new sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s wife and key allies including the vice president and defense minister, accusing them of plundering the country’s wealth and helping Maduro maintain his grip on power.

Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino were among the six people targeted, according to a statement on Tuesday from the U.S. Treasury Department. Three entities and an aircraft were also listed.

“The United States will continue to take concrete and forceful action against those who are involved in the destruction of democracy in Venezuela as well as those who are enriching themselves at the expense of the Venezuelan people” the Treasury Department wrote in a statement.

The Trump administration has levied several rounds of sanctions against Maduro’s government since 2017 on accusations of cracking down on adversaries, fueling widespread corruption and destroying the country’s once-prosperous economy.

Hyperinflation is running at 200,000 percent, and shortages of basic foods and medicine have led to mass emigration.

Maduro says the government is victim of an “economic war” waged by political adversaries with the help of Washington and accuses neighboring countries of exaggerating the migrant exodus.

The Venezuelan Information Ministry did not immediately reply to request for comment.

Individual sanctions such as those published on Tuesday bar American citizens and companies from any dealings with those individuals, which blocks them from holding bank accounts or contracting services from U.S. firms.

A broader set of financial sanctions created last year bar American investors from acquiring newly issued debt, effectively locking the country out of credit markets and further fueling the country’s cash-flow problems.

Maduro has retained power despite the country’s critical situation, in part because of continued support of members of the armed forces such as Padrino, 55, who was appointed defense minister in 2014.

The Treasury said on Tuesday that Padrino helped ensure the military’s loyalty to Maduro. In the past, it has accused high-ranking officers of corruption and undermining human rights.

First lady Cilia Flores, a lawyer and former attorney general who also ran the country’s legislature, frequently appears at public events with Maduro and is seen an important behind-the-scenes power broker.

She was thrust into the international public eye in 2015 when two of her nephews were arrested for conspiring to traffic cocaine into the United States, a situation she described as a “kidnapping.”

Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, a 49-year-old lawyer, is one of Maduro’s most trusted allies. She has been Foreign Minister, Information Minister, and is currently Vice-President.

Her brother, Jorge Rodriguez, was a long-time ally of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez and currently serves as Information Minister.


Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell and Diane Craft