Venezuela's foreign minister Rodriguez quits; Trump administration plans more sanctions on defiant Maduro government

Venezuela's Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez left her post on Wednesday to run for a seat in a controversial new congress, drawing praise from her boss as a "tiger" for her feisty defense of the socialist government.

Historian and deputy foreign minister Samuel Moncada will replace her, President Nicolas Maduro said, announcing the diplomatic shake-up in a speech on state TV. 

"She truly deserves the recognition of the entire country because she has defended Venezuelan sovereignty, peace and independence like a tiger," Maduro said of Rodriguez, who had been Venezuela's top diplomat since the end of 2014. "Congratulations comrade! Job well done." 

Like some other senior Maduro allies, Rodriguez will now be running for a seat in a new Constituent Assembly in an election set for July 30. The Assembly is intended to rewrite the constitution and override other institutions. 

In other news, Trump administration officials warned that the U.S. will impose new, targeted sanctions on Venezuela if the leftist government does not stop its slide toward autocracy and economic implosion. 

The admonishment, shared by two senior administration officials on Wednesday, is the latest indication of the tougher line President Donald Trump is taking toward countries deemed U.S. adversaries than his predecessor, Barack Obama. 

It came as the U.S. and Venezuela repeatedly tangled during a dramatic general assembly meeting of the Organization of American States this week in Cancun, Mexico. There, the Venezuelan foreign minister practically dared the U.S. to send in the Marines, called her country's critics “lapdogs of imperialism,” and said Venezuela would quit the multilateral forum. 

Administration officials said they were planning on a “steady drumbeat” of more such sanctions if Venezuelan leaders “continue their behavior.” A new round could be rolled out within weeks. “We’re definitely moving beyond ‘strategic patience,’” one of the U.S. officials said, referring to the label for an Obama-era approach to troublesome foreign governments. 

The Trump administration officials did not say which officials or entities would be targeted next in Venezuela, but suggested they could go for alleged human rights abusers, officials involved in holding political prisoners, or those who may be part of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the country’s constitution.