The European Union has agreed on November 8th, to impose an arms embargo on Venezuela and will consider more sanctions in response to the on-going political crisis there.
On November 9th, the U.S. sanctioned 10 Venezuelan officials, including government ministers. The U.S. claims these officials are associated with undermining electoral processes, media censorship, and corruption in government-administered food programs in Venezuela.
This is the third round of officials sanctioned by the U.S., with 13 officials in the Venezuelan government, military and state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) sanctioned in July. In August, the U.S. sanctioned 8 more officials for their role in creating the Constituent Assembly, which is made up entirely of allies of the ruling Socialist Party and President Nicolas Maduro.
The crisis in Venezuela has been driven by protests, some violent, for months as opposition leaders from the Democratic Unity Round Table (MUD) face off with Maduro supporters. The opposition accuses President Maduro of moving towards a dictatorship and want him to resign while Maduro accuses the opposition of conspiring with foreign entities, specifically the U.S., to destabilize the country.
The country is also in the middle of an economic crisis that has led to high food prices and a lack of basic goods. Maduro blames the economic crisis on U.S.-backed capitalist conspiracy. In a recent speech to the U.N. Trump identified the Venezuelan regime’s socialist policies as the cause of economic turmoil.
On October 15th, state governor elections were held and while all indications suggested Socialist Party candidates were expected to be ousted from office, the final results showed that the party won 17 of 23 governorships. The U.S. declared the elections unfair and illegitimate.
The EU is following the U.S., who imposed new sanctions on Venezuela in August. President Trump passed Executive Order 13808 which prohibits American financial institutions from providing new money to the government or the PDVSA.
The U.S. first imposed sanctions on Venezuela in 2015 under Executive Order 13692. This E.O. targeted those involved in or responsible for human rights violations and abused in response to anti-government protests, persecution of political opponents, restriction of press freedoms, arrest and detention of anti-government protestors, and the public corruption by senior government officials in Venezuela.
In August, President Trump said he had not ruled out military force to resolve the crisis in Venezuela, an option condemned by U.S. allies in the region. The last time a U.S. President used force for political ends in the Americas was when the U.S. invaded Panama in 1989 to arrest Panamanian President Manuel Noreiga on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. Several Venezuelan leaders, including Maduro’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami, are alleged to have ties to drug trafficking and international terrorism.
On September 24th, Trump released the latest list of countries facing travel restrictions to the U.S. and Venezuela was one of the countries added to the list. Under the travel restrictions, the entry of certain Venezuelan officials and their immediate family members were banned from entering the U.S. The Venezuelan government called the travel restrictions a form of political terrorism.
There is mixed opinions in Latin America on whether the U.S. should further sanction the Venezuelan government. Argentina believes in imposing a full embargo on oil in Venezuela and claims there would be broad support in Latin America for U.S. doing it.
Argentine president Mauricio Macri has criticized the U.S. and said it should tighten its sanctions on Venezuela by imposing a full embargo on its oil exports to the U.S. It is unlikely though that the U.S. would block all imports of Venezuelan crude because it is considered the most drastic action the U.S. could take, as it would harm not only the U.S. oil industry but would also affect Venezuela’s ability to buy imported food and medicine and to pay off debts. Venezuela is the U.S.’s third-largest oil supplier and the oil would be hard to replace because it is heavier than petroleum produced by most U.S. oil fields.
The U.S. goal in Venezuela is to return the government to full democracy, including free elections, adherence to the country’s constitution and the reestablishment of the authority of the elected assembly.