The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on Venezuela, including a ban on exporting arms that could be used by the country’s government against its own people.
The decision, made at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, comes after a forceful crackdown by President Nicolas Maduro’s government against opposition elements in the country.
The UK itself has sold millions of pounds worth of equipment to the country since 2008, despite the Foreign Office having noted it as a country of "concern" over its human rights record. Sales in the most recent year of figures to March 2016 include crowd control equipment for use by law enforcement agencies.
“These measures will be used in a gradual and flexible manner and can be expanded, by targeting those involved in the non-respect of democratic principles or the rule of law and the violation of human rights,” the 28 ministers said in a joint statement following a meeting on Monday morning.
In March Venezuela’s supreme court moved to strip the country’s opposition-controlled congress of powers. The move was later reversed, but a new constitutional convention composed entirely of government loyalists has since claimed supremacy.
Venezuela was badly hit by the 2014 plunge in the price of oil, on which the country’ economy has relied to maintain high levels of social spending.
Shortages of food and other basic commodities have ensued, with price control policies aimed at controlling rampant inflation having little effect.
In September, the UN's human rights chief said that Venezuela's security forces may have committed "crimes against humanity" in dealing with protesters, and called for an international investigation.
Apart from the arms export sanctions, the council of ministers agreed to implement asset freezes and travel restrictions on Venezuelan officials. The ministers said the sanctions could either be reversed or tightened depending on the response to the initial wave of measures of Mr Maduro’s government.
European Parliament president Antonio Tajani welcomed the move to impose the measures.
“Sanctions against the Government of Venezuela are the right choice and take the road to democracy,” he said.
“The European Parliament has been the first to ask for them and will continue to support the people of Venezuela."