WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials Monday, accusing them of perpetrating human rights violations and public corruption in the socialist-governed South American nation.

The individuals all come from the top echelon of the state security apparatus that was responsible for cracking down on anti-government protests that rocked Venezuela last year and for pursuing charges against leading opponents.

“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.

The U.S. Congress passed legislation late last year authorizing sanctions that would freeze the assets and ban visas for anyone accused of carrying out acts of violence or violating the human rights of those opposing the Venezuela’s government. The White House says the sanctions announced Monday mark Obama’s implementation of that bill.

“We’ve seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela,” Earnest said. “These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government to deal with the grave situation it faces.”

Tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela have been on the rise. Last week, Venezuela gave the U.S. two weeks to slash its diplomatic mission there to less than 20 percent of its current size. The U.S., in turn, has criticized Venezuela for its anti-American rhetoric.

Support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist administration has fallen off sharply as Venezuela’s economy has plunged deeper into crisis marked by widespread shortages and inflation over 60 percent. The president’s approval rating in January stood at 22 percent, the lowest since the revolution started by the late President Hugo Chavez in 1999.

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