News & Politics

U.S. Ratchets Up Pressure on Maduro by Blocking Oil Shipments to Cuba

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a May Day march in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

The Trump administration announced that they will sanction 34 vessels used by the country’s oil company PDVSA to transport fuel to Cuba. The move is part of the continuing effort to get Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down and allow the country’s elected leader under the constitution, Juan Guaido, to assume office.

Cuba is one of Venezuela’s major oil customers and sanctioning the state oil company’s ships will make it more difficult for Maduro to ship oil to regional customers.

Vice President Mike Pence told an audience at Rice University, “The United States will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy.” He called oil shipments “the lifeblood of that corrupt regime.”

Washington Examiner:

The sanctions imposed Friday by the Treasury Department on the 34 vessels will “tighten the noose” around Maduro, the official added.

The Trump administration had already placed sanctions on the oil company PDVSA, restricting the sale of oil to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast, representing one of its largest customers.

The restrictions placed on the 34 vessels are meant to make it more difficult for Maduro to ship oil to other regional customers in order to generate revenue, and diminish his influence in the region.

“The story here is there is no future for PDVSA as long as Maduro” remains in power, the administration official said.

He noted that Venezuela’s U.S.-based refinery company, Citgo, has been able to transition to alternate supplies of oil, and is doing better financially than when under Maduro’s control. Citgo is now under the control of the president-elect Guaido.

Maduro is getting an important boost from Russia, which has sent a token military force to Venezuela and is running interference for Maduro internationally. But if Vladimir Putin continues to prop up the dictator, he risks the Senate sanctioning him, according to several sources.

Economic pressure appears not to be working. Would Trump send in U.S. forces to oust Maduro?

A military intervention to oust Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro remains “a very serious option” for the United States, according to President Trump’s national security team.

“Obviously, that’s a result that no one would like to see but clearly one that is seriously considered as events unfold,” a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters Friday evening.

President Trump’s team has wielded that threat to deter any attack by Maduro loyalists on Juan Guaidó, the opposition lawmaker whom the U.S. and other Western democracies recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president in January. Maduro has defied that pressure by retaining control of the military and loyalty of “colectivos,” the paramilitary gangs that blocked the U.S. delivery of humanitarian aid to the country in February.

“We hope that the military will uphold its constitutional duty to protect the Venezuelan people from these illegal terrorist groups known as the colectivos which Maduro is increasingly dependent on,” the senior administration official said.

If the Venezuelan military hasn’t moved on Maduro by now, it’s not likely they will. There could be efforts by junior officers to overthrow the government, but Maduro has chosen his military leadership well.

The U.S. still has some economic moves to make against Venezuela. But realistically, Maduro appears to be well positioned to hold out indefinitely. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan people continue to suffer, with no end in sight to their predicament.