The United States has approved a new round of sanctions against Venezuela, as the country continues to slog through a series of crises and a deteriorating security situation in the wake of a massive economic downturn.

The sanctions reportedly affect 13 key members of President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling and security establishment, targeting their personal finances and ability to conduct business with the United States.

Protests and violence have wracked Venezuela for months now, with Maduro’s socialist regime resorting to increasingly more heavy-handed approaches to quell the unrest and deliver basic necessities to Venezuelans.
This round of sanctions was prompted by Maduro’s plans to change the Venezuelan constitution in his favor, establishing a constituent assembly that he says is necessary for peace in the country, but observers, political opposition forces, and citizens see it simply as a dictator seizing even more power as his regime crumbles. Maduro has continued to cite an American plot to wage an ‘economic war’ against Venezuela as further justification.

A constituent assembly is a supposedly open and democratic process, where working-class representatives from towns and cities all over Venezuela form an assembly to re-write the constitution. The problem lies with the government cherry picking these representatives, meaning any “open and democratic” process will be a farce. Few Venezuelans believe the process will be fair, and millions turned out in a vote put on by the opposition to voice support for keeping the constitution, and forcing a new presidential election next year.

Critics say Maduro is taking a page directly out of Fidel Castro’s playbook, and his plan to further centralize power in his executive will lead to a Cuban Communist-style government in Venezuela.

U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) issued a joint statement expressing their concern with the erosion of democracy in Venezuela.