Monday 23 April 2018

Venezuela crisis builds as US draws up sanctions

President Nicolas Maduro
President Nicolas Maduro

Harriet ALexander

The White House has threatened Venezuela with "strong and swift" action unless President Nicolas Maduro calls off a July 30 "constitutional congress", which the US believes will push the South American country further towards a dictatorship.

Mr Maduro, who has now faced more than 100 days of protests, killing around 100 people, insists that getting congress to rewrite the constitution is the only way to restore calm to the troubled country - which has the largest oil reserves in the world, and was once a stable, middle class nation.

But his opponents say that the congress will cement his "dictatorship".

A senior White House official said that "all options are on the table" if Venezuela goes ahead with the vote.

"The president is very concerned about the well being of the Venezuelan people, the incredible erosion of democracy right before our eyes," the official said.

"And he has instructed us to do everything we can to support democracy there."

The Trump administration was preparing sanctions against Diosdado Cabello, Mr Maduro's second-in-command, and Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the defence minister, Reuters reported.

The sanctions would freeze the officials' US assets and prohibit anyone in the United States from doing business with them.

Mr Cabello responded on Twitter with an 1826 quote from Simon Bolivar, the independence hero idolised by Hugo Chavez and his allies.

He tweeted: "Our liberator is watching over us today: 'The United States seems destined by providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty.'"

He then re-tweeted a message of support from Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, who described the threat as "shameful".

There was also a suggestion that the US could be preparing sanctions against PDVSA, the state oil company.

Venezuela is the third largest foreign oil supplier to the United States, after Canada and Saudi Arabia, exporting about 780,000 barrels per day of crude.

While sanctions against the PDVSA could bankrupt the Maduro administration and worsen already grave food shortages, hitting Venezuela's energy sector could also raise US domestic fuel prices, which would be unpopular with Americans.

The White House would not confirm who or what would be sanctioned, but only promised "strong and swift economic actions".

"The president views Venezuela as a disaster, and a man-made disaster," the official said.(© Daily Telegraph London)

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