What's behind Trump's sanctioning of Venezuela?

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks at a news briefing at the White House, where he announced new sanctions against Venezuela, on August 25.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017.

Earlier in the day, Pence met with 15 Venezuelan exiles in South Florida who said more help is needed to restore democracy in the socialist regime.

But he warned that "sacrifices" will be required to free Venezuela from the "blackmail" of the dollar and American financial system that he said are out of step with the U.S.' diminishing role in the world economy.

Two other mayors told Pence the USA government should impose more sanctions.

The Bolivarian Government has the "obligation to defend the nation's sovereignty", Maduro said.

Maduro's moves come after the nearly 90% drop in profits at Petroleos de Venezuela SA previous year amid declining output and a drop in oil prices.

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Trump's executive order for Venezuela includes a wind-down period of 30 years and financing for the majority of commercial trade, which includes petroleum imports and exports.

"The Maduro dictatorship continues to deprive the Venezuelan people of food and medicine, imprison the democratically elected opposition, and violently suppress freedom of speech", a White House statement said. The sanctions bar USA banks for making new deals with the Venezuelan government or the country's state run oil company.

Arreaza asks whether Americans "want to starve the Venezuelan people". "We will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles", Pence said. Days after that vote, Maduro's assets were also frozen.

The move comes ahead of a meeting of heads of states including Venezuela that will seek accords on oil prices, Bloomberg quoted Maduro as saying on Venezuelan state television.

The sanctions follow through on Trump's threat last month that he would take strong economic actions if Maduro's increasingly authoritarian government went ahead with plans to create a constitutional assembly that is made up wholly of government loyalists. He was careful not to rule out the use of military force while speaking to reporters on Friday.

As NPR's Laurel Wamsley reported at the time, the pressure was aimed at preventing Venezuela from going forward with a controversial election to form an all-powerful National Constituent Assembly.

Maduro is already struggling to combat widespread shortages and triple-digit inflation as oil production has tumbled to its lowest level in more than two decades.