CARACAS, VENEZUELA - APRIL 06: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido attends a rally with supporters on April 6, 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by many members of the international community as the country's rightful interim ruler, called for protests throughout Venezuela to put pressure on Nicolas Maduro to resign as part of the Operacion Libertad plan. As an answer to this, Diosdado Cabello, head of the National Constituent Assembly conducts another demonstration. On April 2nd, National Constituent Assembly has backed a Supreme Court request to strip Juan Guaido of his immunity. (Photo by Marco Bello/Getty Images)
Understanding Venezuela's political crisis
02:32 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Newly imposed US sanctions on Venezuela could “significantly exacerbate” the crisis that ordinary civilians are facing in the country, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned in a statement Thursday.

“I fear that they will have far-reaching implications on the rights to health and to food in particular, in a country where there are already serious shortages of essential goods,” Bachelet said, describing the sanctions as “extremely broad.”

Monday’s sanctions have meant that assets of the Venezuelan government and associated entities have been frozen and economic transactions have been prohibited by the US, unless specifically exempted. Transactions related to the official business of the federal government and humanitarian aid are already exempt.

However, Bachelet said she feared that “that businesses and financial institutions are likely to err on the side of caution and completely halt transactions relating to the Government of Venezuela rather than risk punishment for violating the sanctions.”

She called on anyone with influence to “work together constructively for a political solution” which puts Venezuelan citizens interests above all.

This week’s sanctions marked an escalation from the already expansive US measures against the Venezuelan government.

The U.S supports the leadership of National Assembly president Juan Guaido, who has galvanized months of mass protests to change the country’s government since early this year. Embattled president Nicolas Maduro, whose term was renewed last year in elections which were largely viewed as a sham, has refused to step down and continues to be supported by a few countries including China, Russia and Cuba.

On Monday night in a letter to Congress announcing the measures, US President Donald Trump wrote: “I have determined that it is necessary to block the property of the Government of Venezuela in light of the continued usurpation of power by the illegitimate Nicolas Maduro regime, as well as the regime’s human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest and detention of Venezuelan citizens, curtailment of free press, and ongoing attempts to undermine Interim President Juan Guaido of Venezuela and the democratically-elected Venezuelan National Assembly.”

The presidential elections which secured President Nicolas Maduro another six-year term was largely viewed as a sham.

Maduro’s government has strongly protested the sanctions. On Tuesday, foreign minister Jorge Arreaza claimed that because of the sanctions the country was no longer able to import food for a key subsidy program called Local Committees of Food Production (CLAP, in Spanish). According to the latest independent research on living conditions in Venezuela, more than 7 million people rely on the CLAP program for their food products.

Venezuela’s economy has been in crisis for years, due to plummeting oil prices and economic and infrastructural mismanagement. Millions of Venezuelans have fled the country, as food and medicine shortages make survival increasingly difficult. US sanctions which were already imposed on Venezuela’s national oil company have helped to accelerate a collapse in the country’s oil output, which has sent ripples throughout the global energy market.

The US State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

CNN’s Paul LeBlanc, Ray Sanchez and Matt Egan contributed reporting from Atlanta, and Stefano Pozzebon contributed reporting from Caracas.