Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro is set to defy pleas from world leaders and his own people on Sunday by holding an election which is expected to plunge the crisis-ridden country into new depths of uncertainty.
The administration of US President Donald Trump spared Venezuela from broader sanctions against its vital oil industry, but such actions were still under consideration.
"As our sanctions demonstrate, the United States is standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy", U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The leftist leader was also feeling the heat at home, where neighbors gathered from dawn across Venezuela to block roads with rubbish, stones and tape, while many stores remained shut. Parts of Caracas were - came to pretty much a total standstill.
"It's the only way to show we are not with Maduro".
Avianca had earlier said on Wednesday it would cancel its Bogota-Caracas-Bogota and Lima-Caracas-Lima routes, a total of three daily flights, beginning August 16.
Sanctions prohibiting any transaction in USA currency by PDVSA, for instance, are among the toughest of various oil-related measures under discussion at the White House, a senior White House official and an adviser with direct knowledge of the discussions told Reuters last week.
At least 107 people have died in anti-government unrest convulsing the South American country since April, when the opposition launched protests demanding free and fair elections to end almost two decades of socialist rule. In various places, National Guard troops fired tear gas at masked youths throwing rocks, witnesses said.
The constituent assembly would be authorized to rewrite the constitution but opposition supporters said that's just a diversion from the real problems facing Venezuela.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has lashed out against the U.S. government after it imposed sanctions on 13 of his regime's top officials, as the South American country's violent anti-government protests have led to more deaths. Since then, confrontations between the Assembly and Maduro's government, controlled by loyalists of late President Hugo Chávez, have been incessant.
One of the US officials warned the sanctions were just an initial round and the administration was readying tougher measures. This is the moment when the Venezuelan people need the strong support of the global community to save their country from the mess into which their incompetent government dragged them kicking and screaming.
As The Two-Way's Camila Domonoske reported last week, "Venezuela is one of the largest foreign suppliers of oil to the USA, accounting for almost 10 percent of total imports".
Maduro has repeatedly blamed the crisis on the United States, saying Washington has incited the opposition.
Venezuela's Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the sanctions.
Dressed in white and speaking assertively, Lopez said he did not regret one minute of his three-year imprisonment if it helped "awaken the Venezuelan people".
Among those hit by the sanctions were Tibisay Lucena Ramirez, the president of the National Electoral Council and president of Venezuela's National Board of Elections; Elias Jose Jaua Milano, Minister of Education and head of the Presidential Commission for the National Constituent Assembly; Tarek William Saab Halabi, the president of Venezuela's Republican Moral Council; and Maria Iris Varela Rangel, a Member of Venezuela's Presidential Commission for the Constituent Assembly.
"The government has to stop its plan for a constituent assembly", Venezuela's Union leader Aldo Torres said.
Far from derail Maduro, the Venezuelan leader appeared emboldened by the sanctions, praising those accused by the US government of undermining the nation's democracy and abusing human rights.
There has been widespread worldwide condemnation of the ballot, and the United States on Wednesday announced sanctions against 13 current and former officials for corruption, undermining democracy, and participating in repression.
"What the United States is doing is bringing to light corruption in the Venezuelan government", opposition lawmaker Franklin Duarte told Reuters.