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US Treasury targets banks in new Venezuela sanctions

The U.S. Treasury Department on March 22 launched sanctions against Venezuela's state-run development bank, Banco de Desarrollo Económico y Social de Venezuela, adding to a string of similar actions in recent months amid an ongoing power struggle within the Latin American country.

In a statement, the Treasury said that it enacted the sanctions in response to the arrest of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido's chief of staff earlier in the week.

In addition to the development bank, which is known as BANDES, the sanctions also apply to two Venezuelan subsidiaries, Banco Bicentenario del Pueblo de la Clase Obrera Mujer y Comunas Banco Univ CA and Banco De Venezuela SA Banco Universal, as well as Uruguay-based unit Banco Bandes Uruguay SA and Bolivian unit Banco Prodem SA.

The move marks the latest move in a monthslong effort to strip President Nicolás Maduro from power after he claimed re-election victory in a voting process that many have deemed to be fraudulent. Guaido declared himself to be the country's interim president in late January, and was soon after recognized by several international countries, including the U.S., as Venezuela's rightful leader.

"The willingness of Maduro's inner-circle to exploit Venezuela's institutions knows no bounds. Regime insiders have transformed BANDES and its subsidiaries into vehicles to move funds abroad in an attempt to prop up Maduro," U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "Maduro and his enablers have distorted the original purpose of the bank, which was founded to help the economic and social well-being of the Venezuelan people, as part of a desperate attempt to hold onto power."

Earlier in the year, the U.S. placed sanctions against Venezuela's state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA. It also has sanctioned dozens of top officials aligned with Maduro and has blocked U.S. banks from doing business with the country.