WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Thursday (May 18) called the situation in Venezuela a "disgrace to humanity" and said the deadly political crisis was possibly the worst of its kind in decades.
"We haven't really seen a problem like that... in decades, in terms of the kind of violence that we're witnessing," Trump told a press conference with visiting Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
"People don't have enough to eat. People have no food. There's great violence. And we will do whatever is necessary and we will work together to do whatever is necessary to help with fixing that.
"What is happening is really a disgrace to humanity."
Shortly thereafter the US Treasury slapped sanctions on eight members of Venezuela's Supreme Court, charging them with undermining the deeply divided country's democratic legislature in support of a corrupt government.
Trump's comments came one day after the Venezuelan government announced it was sending more than 2,500 troops to a trouble-hit region on the border with Colombia to try to quell weeks of violence that have claimed 44 lives nationwide.
Despite its vast oil reserves, Venezuela is suffering chronic shortages of food, medicine and other basic supplies. The center-right opposition blames it all on mismanagement and corruption in the Socialist government.
President Nicolas Maduro in turn blames sabotage by the "bourgeois" opposition, which he says is backed by Washington.
"When you look at the oil reserves that they have, when you look at the potential wealth that Venezuela has, you sort of have to wonder why is that happening, how is that possible?" said Trump.
"It has been unbelievably poorly run for a long period of time, and hopefully that will change and they could use those assets for the good and to take care of their people," he said.
The Treasury Department sanctions were Washington's toughest action yet signaling support for hundreds of thousands of protestors seeking Maduro's tight grip on power.
The announcement followed a series of rulings since mid-2016 in which the court usurped the National Assembly's powers in support of Maduro.
The sanctions freeze any assets the country's most powerful judicial figures may have in US jurisdictions and lock them out of much of global banking.
"The Venezuelan people are suffering from a collapsing economy brought about by their government's mismanagement and corruption," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
"Members of the country's Supreme Court of Justice have exacerbated the situation by consistently interfering with the legislative branch's authority," he said.
"By imposing these targeted sanctions, the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country."
Venezuela's Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez took to Twitter to reject the US-imposed measures, calling them "outrageous and unacceptable."
She said the sanctions are proof of "the US authority and leadership in the destabilization of Venezuela."
The Treasury cited recent Supreme Court rulings that have allowed Maduro to rule by executive decree, exempted the government from submitting its budget to the legislature, and taken away from the legislature the power to appoint the National Electoral Council.
In March, the court stripped parliamentary immunity from members of the National Assembly and moved to assume legislative powers for itself. Those decisions have since been partially reversed.
The eight named for sanctions include the president of the Supreme Court, Maikel Moreno, and the seven principal members of the court's Constitutional Chamber.
In February, the US designated Maduro's vice president and presumed heir Tareck El Aissami a major international drug trafficker.