The United States hit Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with direct sanctions on Monday over a disputed and deadly weekend vote for a new legislative superbody that has largely isolated him at home and abroad. A defiant Maduro, however, mocked Washington's sanctions against him.
The US measures were unusual in that they targeted a sitting head of state, but their reach was mostly symbolic, freezing any US assets Maduro might have and banning people under US jurisdiction from dealing with him. Washington had warned of such sanctions if Maduro decided to go ahead with Sunday's elections to a constituent assembly with powers to rewrite the Constitution - a parallel set-up to the opposition lead National Assembly.
"Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
"By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy," he added.
TRT World's Tetiana Anderson explains what the US sanctions mean.
Maduro slams the US "empire"
No oil-related measures were included, but such sanctions remain under consideration, according to congressional sources and a person familiar with the White House's deliberations on the matter.
Maduro chided US President Donald Trump for winning the presidency by way of the electoral college after losing the popular vote in the November election.
"I don't take orders from the empire," he shouted to a televised gathering of supporters. "Keep up your sanctions, Donald Trump!"
"In the United States, it's possible to become president with 3 million votes less than your opponent. What a tremendous democracy!" Maduro told a cheering and applauding audience.
Democrat Hillary Clinton outpaced Trump by almost 2.9 million votes, according to official US election results.
Maduro said the sanctions reflected Trump's "desperation" and "hatred" for Venezuela's socialist government.
At least 10 people died in violence surrounding Sunday's election, which saw security forces firing tear gas and, in some cases, live ammunition to put down protests. Among those killed were two teens and a Venezuelan soldier.
According to the opposition, voter turnout was closer to 12 percent, a figure more aligned with the lack of lines that were seen at many polling stations.
Surveys by polling firm Datanalisis showed more than 70 percent of Venezuelans were opposed the new assembly.
Further protests were called for Monday and beyond, stoking fears that the death toll in four months of protests against Maduro could rise beyond the more than 120 already recorded.
Demonstrators were ignoring a ban on protests put in place by Maduro that threatened up to 10 years in prison for violators.
Uncontested by the opposition, and voted for by state employees fearful for their jobs, the constituent assembly was made up solely of members of Maduro's ruling Socialist Party.
Tasked with writing a new constitution, it has far-reaching powers, including the right to dissolve the National Assembly and change laws.
It is due to be installed on Wednesday. Its members include Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores.
"Fate of democracy in Venezuela"
Mexico, Colombia, Peru and other nations joined the US in saying they did not recognise the results of Sunday's election, which appointed a new "Constituent Assembly" superseding Venezuela's legislative body, the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
Maduro's own attorney general, Luisa Ortega, who broke with him months ago over his policies, also said she would not acknowledge the body, calling it part of the president's "dictatorial ambition" to do away with political and civil rights.
The European Union expressed "preoccupation for the fate of democracy in Venezuela" and said it, too, doubted it could accept the results.
However, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia stood by Maduro, who shrugged off mass protests and a previous round of US sanctions on some of his officials to see through the election.
The National Electoral Council claimed more than 40 percent of Venezuela's 20 million voters had cast ballots Sunday.
"It is the biggest vote the revolution has ever scored in its 18-year history," Maduro said.
Russia, however, threw its weight behind Maduro and the election, backing the government turnout figure.
The foreign ministry in Moscow said in a statement it hopes countries "who apparently want to increase economic pressure on Caracas will display restraint and abandon their destructive plans."
Bolivia echoed that, urging the world "to respect the democratic process that took place in Venezuela."
But the leader of the opposition congress, Julio Borges, said Venezuela has found itself "more divided and isolated in the world."
A spokeswoman for the European Commission said: "A Constituent Assembly, elected under doubtful and often violent circumstances, cannot be part of the solution."
Venezuela's 30 million citizens are suffering through shortages of basic goods. Sanctions against the all-important oil sector would worsen their situation, but could also destabilise the government, which is frenziedly printing money and running out of foreign currency reserves.