Caracas, February 28, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The US government is actively evaluating an oil embargo against Venezuela, alleged sources within the Trump administration have told press.
According to McClatchy, the White House, the National Security Council, the State Department and the Treasury Department are currently considering different mechanisms to remove elected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from office ahead of April 22 elections, which Washington has denounced as “illegitimate”.
Among the options is a full-scale embargo against Venezuelan oil or a possible ban on the sale of oil-related products to the South American country.
Also reportedly on the table are possible US sanctions against the vice-president of Venezuela’s governing United Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, who was unilaterally sanctioned by Canada for alleged human rights abuses and corruption in September, despite no evidence being presented.
“The message is we will continue to ratchet up the pressure until the Maduro regime is removed and democracy is returned to Venezuela,” a senior administration official purportedly told McClatchy.
Washington’s escalating actions against Caracas come as Venezuela gears up for presidential elections, which the Trump administration says it won’t recognize.
Last week, the country’s MUD opposition coalition announced it would boycott the vote, despite the early date reportedly being agreed upon in the context of a negotiated deal with the government, which also included electoral guarantees such as an UN-sponsored observation mission. However, several smaller opposition parties have opted to participate in the election, backing former Lara Governor Henri Falcon, who has been expelled from the MUD on Tuesday for defying the boycott.
In recent weeks, the Trump administration has attempted to drum up international support for its proposed oil embargo against Venezuela.
In early February, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson launched a tour of the region in which he urged his counterparts in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, and Jamaica to back the potential measure. So far, only Argentina’s right-wing Macri administration expressed support for the embargo, while Mexico’s scandal-ridden Peña Nieto government – itself facing upcoming presidential elections – cautioned against the measure.
A US embargo on Venezuelan crude – the source of over ninety-percent of Venezuela’s export earnings – would likely have a significant negative impact on a country already undergoing its worst economic downturn in decades.
Venezuela still depends heavily on the US market for its exports, despite recent attempts to diversify its exports to other emerging powers such as India, China, and Russia, who have increased their purchases of Venezuelan oil in recent years
The move may also have a ripple-effect within the US economy, with many domestic refiners still dependent on Venezuela’s heavy crude.
Valero, one of Venezuela’s largest buyers, as of November imports 200,000 barrels daily from the oil-rich country. Refiners on the Gulf Coast are likewise accustomed to heavy sour crude, as is Chevron.
Anticipating the potential blowback, Tillerson has already proposed tapping into the US’ 700 million barrels of domestic reserves in a bid to secure a softer landing.
Himself a former executive of US oil giant ExxonMobil, Tillerson has repeatedly called for the ousting of the leftist government in Caracas, despite denying US support for regime change.
During a speech at the University of Texas-Austin on February 1, the secretary of state hinted at the possibility of a military coup in Venezuela and suggested that Maduro could be exiled to Cuba.
"In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad, and the leadership can no longer serve the people," he told his audience.
Senate Dems allege “sham election”
The Trump administration’s mulling of a potential oil embargo comes as US Senate Democrats introduced a resolution condemning Venezuela’s April 22 vote as a “sham election”.
Sponsored by eleven senators from the Democratic Party, the resolution calls on the Venezuelan government to postpone the presidential election until a raft of conditions are met, including “international and local electoral observers from credible organizations”, arrangements for Venezuelans abroad to participate, as well as the restaffing of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council with “non-partisan members”.
The proposition does not, however, address the electoral guarantees negotiated between the government and the opposition, which Maduro has vowed to implement, including the reopening of the Venezuelan consulate in Miami for voter registration as well as a recent request received by the UN, the African National Congress, and CARICOM for an international observer mission.
If approved, the resolution would have the US Senate denounce as “illegitimate” the April 22 election if senators judge it does not meet their preconditions.
Led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), among the cosigners are Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tim Kaine (D-VA.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
In pushing the resolution, the Democratic senators found common ground with the Trump White House and with Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who insiders say is one of the architects of the administration’s aggressive anti-Venezuela policy.
On February 9, Rubio made headlines when he publicly called for Venezuela’s armed forces to overthrow Maduro.
“The world would support the Armed Forces in Venezuela if they decide to protect the people & restore democracy by removing a dictator,” he tweeted.
To date, no resolution has been submitted by Congressional Democrats protesting the Trump administration’s financial sanctions imposed on Venezuela nor has there been opposition in the legislature to the White House’s threats of military intervention and an oil embargo.