The White House issued a surprisingly strong response to the news that hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans voted in a symbolic referendum on Sunday to reject a plan by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to rewrite the national constitution. Citizens were attacked outside of a Catholic church in the Caracas borough of Sucre. A nurse was killed, and four others wounded in the incident when supporters of the Chavista government descended on the neighborhood on motorcycles in a tactic reminiscent of Venezuela’s security forces.
Security forces are promising to use strong-arm tactics on July 20 when a national strike is expected.
The White House released a statement on Monday noting that the Venezuelan people “stand for democracy, freedom, and rule of law.” The statement went on to say: “Yet their strong and courageous actions continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.”
The statement read: “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles. If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.”
If the Trump administration decides to impose new economic sanctions on Venezuela for essentially scrapping its current constitution, an inviting target would be that country’s energy sector, including its state oil company, PDVSA. The Venezuelan government also owns the Citgo: a refiner, transporter, and marketer of transportation fuels, lubricants, petrochemicals and other industrial products. However, Reuters reported in June that the Trump administration was considering a “sectoral” sanctions package, fearing that severe hit to Venezuela’s oil industry could worse the already dismal economic and humanitarian situation in the country. In addition, sanctions could boomerang for the US because Venezuela supplies oil to the US. As of 2016, however, Venezuela accounted for only about 8 percent of gross petroleum product imports into the US. By way of comparison, Canada and Saudi Arabia account for 49 percent between the two. Either would be glad to sell more oil to the US. Because of government mismanagement, oil production in Venezuela is expected to drop.
So far, Maduro and his supporters in the military and security forces remain well-supplied with food and medicine. It is the majority of the Venezuelan people who are facing shortages of everything from cooking oil, rice and beans, to toilet paper, aspirin, and insulin. The blame for the situation lies exclusively with President Maduro and the system bequeathed to him by former president Hugo Chavez. The United States is not at fault for the suffering of the Venezuelan people. While the Venezuelan nation will suffer even more under additional temporary sanctions, sanctions for the kleptocratic and authoritarian Maduro regime may be inevitable. What was once a burgeoning democracy that had an economy that beckoned investors is daily darkening into a murderous autocracy whose only friends are Cuba, Iran, and Russia.
With the threat of sanctions from the United States now looming for Venezuela, President Trump may have fired the first salvo of a revolution that will bring down Maduro and his cronies.