He noted that anyone organizing or participating in assemblies could face between five and ten years in prison, but did not specify whether this ban would continue following the election scheduled for Monday. The opposition is boycotting the vote, saying the election rules have been rigged to favor the ruling socialist party and will only serve to tighten Maduro's grip on power. Highways were mostly empty and businesses shuttered across the country as millions of people observed the 48-hour strike and activists threw up roadblocks in many neighborhoods to keep others from getting to work. And the crisis is creating fears in neighbouring countries of a refugee crisis, with 150 Venezuelans a day seeking asylum in Brazil alone and an estimated 550,000 living undocumented in Colombia.
Under Chavez's less charismatic successor Maduro, the bolivar currency has plummeted and dragged down salaries to a few dozen USA dollars a month, fomenting discontent among the rank-and-file.
Government officials and candidates for the Constituent Assembly wrapped up campaigning on Thursday with a rally in Caracas with Maduro. White House officials are waiting for the result of the July 30 vote for representatives to the National Constituent Assembly, which will write the country's new constitution.
The sanctions won't affect USA oil imports from Venezuela, at least for now.
USA sanctions against Venezuelan officials include a key figure in some of the oil-for-cash deals with China that are central for the survival of Petroleos de Venezuela SA.
The government has banned protests from Friday to Tuesday, but opposition figure Henrique Capriles called on his followers to hold protests along the country's main roads on Sunday.
Protests have been constant since the Supreme Court in late March transferred legislative powers from the National Assembly to Maduro.
On Thursday, the United States ordered families of its embassy staff in Venezuela to leave.
NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière echoed Mr. Kent, saying Canada should consult with allies to respond to the Venezuelan crisis.
As of Friday, at least 113 people have died in protests and other incidents linked to the unrest, the attorney general's office has said, often without elaborating on who was responsible for their deaths.
With surveys showing that nearly 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose the assembly, the government wants to avoid embarrassingly low turnout in a ballot being boycotted by the opposition.
Worldwide pressure to cancel the vote intensified Friday, with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reiterating in a telephone call with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez that the United States would respond with "strong and swift economic actions" if the election proceeds.
Some employees said they would vote on Sunday to avoid the fate of those fired after a government lawmaker published a list of Venezuelans who signed a petition demanding a recall referendum against Chavez.
Julio Borges, leader of Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly legislature, phoned into the news conference to discuss the upcoming vote.
Far from derail Maduro, the Venezuelan leader appeared emboldened by the sanctions, praising those accused by the USA government of undermining the nation's democracy and abusing human rights. "What unifies us today in this cause isn't interference in another country's affairs, but support for its people", he said.
Maduro is aligned with the political movement of Hugo Chavez, the President from 1999 until his death in 2013.
"This protest has been urgent from the beginning, but these two days before the election will be decisive".