President Donald Trump’s administration is considering restricting Venezuelan oil imports to pressure the socialist country into possibly ousting President Nicolás Maduro.
Restricting imports from the country could help force Venezuela’s socialist president into returning to a constitutional government, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a news conference Sunday in Buenos Aires.
“One of the aspects of considering sanctioning oil is what effect would it have on the Venezuelan people? Is it a step that might bring this to an end more rapidly?” Tillerson said, referring to Venezuela’s economic and political crisis.
His comments come shortly after he suggested during a Friday talk that Maduro could be toppled by his own military.
Venezuela is already crippled by severe shortages of food and medicine due in large part to the decline in worldwide oil prices, so any restrictions leveled against the country could potentially be a death-blow.
Sanctions have so far focused on individual members of Maduro’s government and a ban on buying new Venezuelan debt. “We are looking at options and we are looking at how to mitigate the impacts on U.S. business interests,” Tillerson said.
Trump signed an executive order in 2017 imposing a slate of sanctions against Venezuela’s primary oil company, petróleos de Venezuela.
The measures are designed to restrict the company’s access to U.S. financial markets so the Maduro regime can no longer “underwrite its repression” of opposition groups, a senior administration official said in announcing the order.
American financial institutions and individuals are prohibited from trading new debt and equity issued by the Maduro government or the primary oil company. The measures also block dealings in certain existing bonds owned by the Venezuelan public sector, as well as dividend payments to the government of Venezuela.
Tillerson’s suggestion would expand restrictions to the country’s moribund oil industry, a crucial economic engine for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member.
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