The new European pressure on Venezuela comes as the country reels from an economic crisis that has caused near-quadruple-digit inflation, driven up poverty rates, ruined public services and depleted stocks in grocery stores and pharmacies, causing widespread hardship and compelling the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans.
Though Mr. Maduro is widely unpopular, he has used the judiciary and other divisions of government to tighten his hold on power, jail prominent critics and demoralize the opposition, which has suffered deep schisms following a dismal showing in regional elections last month in which the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela was able to buttress its dominance.
The European Union’s foreign ministers cited those elections, which were scarred by allegations of fraud and electoral trickery, as an impetus for its decision on Monday, and they called on the Maduro administration to allow “a comprehensive and independent audit” of the results.
“These developments have accentuated the political polarization in the country,” the group said.
In a statement, the Maduro administration called the new European restrictions “illegal, absurd and ineffective.”
Also on Monday, the government, seeking to ease Venezuela’s economic crisis and avoid a default, began talks in Caracas on renegotiating a crushing foreign debt that has drained its treasury of money to import food and medicine.
Though many major investors around the world balked at an invitation to the meeting, citing safety concerns amid the capital’s violence and the possibility they could run afoul of American sanctions, scores of bondholders or their representatives attended the hourlong gathering. It was held at a regal government…