Jodi Hanson Bond


July 31, 2017


Venezuela is in the midst of a full-scale political, economic, and humanitarian crisis as a result of actions taken by its president, Nicolás Maduro, and his regime to thwart the rule of law and dismantle democratic institutions. Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, was once a symbol of modernity and safety in Latin America. It is now one of the world’s most violent cities.

The situation entered a dire new phase yesterday when President Maduro defied the will of members of the country’s opposition and moved closer to establishing a dictatorship when he oversaw a sham “election” to install a “constituent assembly” filled with Maduro supporters whose mandate will include overriding the democratically elected National Assembly and abolishing the current constitution.

In response to the previously growing chaos and advancing tyranny of the Maduro regime, the Trump administration announced last week that it is imposing sanctions on thirteen close associates of the Venezuelan president and indicated that more economic sanctions would likely follow if Maduro proceeded with yesterday’s “election.”

Something must absolutely be done to address the upheaval in Venezuela. President Maduro’s assault on the rule of law, and the sufferings of the country’s people are unacceptable. However, additional unilateral sanctions – especially of the sector-specific variety – are not the answer.

The best way for the U.S. to help Venezuela in this time of great crisis is to continue advocating for regional efforts to impose diplomatic sanctions on the Maduro regime.

The Trump administration deserves credit for supporting such an effort within the Organization of American States (OAS), but there is more work to be done to convince hold-out OAS-member nations that only through a regimen of comprehensive multilateral sanctions will the Maduro regime be fully held accountable. Such an approach would deprive the derelict Venezuelan executive branch of the ability to use any single country or entity as a scapegoat for an economic disaster of its own making. And it’s only through a broad, concerted effort of like-minded Venezuelan trading partners that sanctions can be truly comprehensive and impactful.

In the case of Venezuela, any further unilateral sanctions could lead to unintended consequences, such as:

  1. Worsening the country’s profound economic and humanitarian crisis;
  2. Providing the Maduro regime with the ability to sustain its rule by casting the United States as an “imperialist” scapegoat for Venezuela’s ills;
  3. Harming U.S. workers and businesses even as these unilateral measures fail to achieve their intended objective;

Sanctions targeting the U.S.-Venezuelan petroleum and petrochemical trade, while tempting as a means to undercutting the Maduro regime, could produce particularly adverse consequences for many Venezuelans.

Venezuela depends on oil for 95 percent of its export income so placing sanctions on the commodity that provides the country its sole access to hard currency would only exacerbate the critical shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods its citizens already confront. It’s a key reason why even ardent Maduro opponents in Venezuela caution against levying sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports. As for the U.S.,Venezuela is our third largest supplier of crude oil, and any interruption in commerce risks higher costs and greater uncertainty for our consumers and businesses.

On Friday, nine members of Congress, in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, cautioned against an oil-import ban, and the Washington Post editorial board laid it out this way:

The risk now is that U.S. policy will go too far. The White House is reportedly considering sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports, which provide 95 percent of the country’s export revenues, including a possible ban on the approximately 700,000 barrels a day that go to the United States. That action would be devastating to Venezuela’s 30 million people, who already face dire shortages of food and medicine. It will also give the Maduro regime an excuse for the catastrophic economic conditions it has created — and for which it now bears exclusive blame…If the constituent assembly is called, the United States should react decisively — but it should do so in ways that punish Venezuela’s corrupt rulers, not its long-suffering population.

It is clear the Maduro regime is intent on maintaining its grip on power by any means, even as its actions plunge Venezuela further into chaos. Nevertheless, the U.S. should be wary of diplomatic options that could do more harm than good. The U.S., with our hemispheric partners in the international community, must work to reverse Venezuela’s tragic plight and bring an end to the current humanitarian crisis.

About the authors

Jodi Hanson Bond