Venezuela - US Relations - Trump
Since Donald Trump took office, he has made clear that the United States stands with the people of Venezuela in their fight for democratic governance, human rights, and the rule of law in the face of efforts by the regime of President Nicolas Maduro to undermine them.
The United States maintains a broad general license that authorizes all financing and other dealings in new debt related to the exportation or reexportation of agricultural commodities, medicine, medical devices, or replacement parts and components for medical devices, to Venezuela, or to persons in third countries purchasing specifically for resale to Venezuela, provided that the exportation or reexportation is licensed or otherwise authorized by the Department of Commerce.
In February 2017 a bipartisan group of 34 US lawmakers sent a letter to Trump urging an increase pressure on the socialist government in Caracas by sanctioning top officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. The letter named Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah, who was named Venezuela's vice president in January 2017, for his purported ties to the Lebanon-based Shia terrorist group Hezbollah. El Aissami's father was a Druze immigrant from Syria who allegedly was a military associate of then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. El Aissami had been linked to the issuance of 173 Venezuelan passports and identification cards to individuals in the Middle East, including those linked to Hezbollah.
The United States designated Venezuela's vice president as an international narcotics trafficker under its Kingpin Act. El Aissami controlled planes and drug routes and protected and facilitated other narcotics traffickers operating in the South American country.
The U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson, was a former general manager at ExxonMobil. Tillerson was the top manager of the company when former President Hugo Chavez made the decision to nationalize the Orinoco Oil Belt where the U.S. corporation had major projects.
Under Tillerson's command, the U.S. company decided not to renegotiate its oil projects like the one belonging to Cerro Negro in Monagas with state-owned PDVSA, according to the new directives after nationalization. ExxonMobil sued PDVSA at the ICSID — the World Bank court to resolve investment disputes — seeking compensation in the amount of US$20 billion back in 2007.
After nearly a decade-long legal battle, reviews and appeals to various verdicts, on March 10, 2017, the ICSID decided that the lawsuit of ExxonMobil contained irregularities and freed PDVSA of paying any damages. The northern oil company suffered perhaps the biggest legal defeat of its history with this ruling in favor of the Venezuelan state.
Tillerson commented on 19 April 2017: "We are closely watching what happens in that country and working with others, especially through the OAS, to communicate our concerns to them," surely referring to Uruguayan Luis Almagro as liaison and key operator of the American strategy for pressure within the organization.
In May 2017 the Council of Foreign Relations elaborated a set of recommendations to the U.S. government for regime change. The viable options for a change of government in Venezuela proposed by the CFR (which has shaped U.S. foreign policy since the beginning of the 20th century) are to increase sanctions against key Chavista leaders, to push diplomatically from the OAS using neighboring countries such as Colombia and Brazil, and to demand that China and Russia withdraw their support of the Venezuelan government to intensify isolation. The Trump Administration fulfilled the vast majority of the CFR proposals as political routes to support the coup d'état agenda in Venezuela.
In May 2017, the US sanctioned eight members of Venezuela's Supreme Court of Justice after they attempted to usurp the powers of the democratically elected National Assembly, a stronghold of the political opposition to President Maduro.
On July 17, 2017 Donald J. Trump stated "Yesterday, the Venezuelan people again made clear that they stand for democracy, freedom, and rule of law. Yet their strong and courageous actions continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator. The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles. If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions."
US Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), senior member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a statement 26 July 2017 after the State and Treasury Departments announced the United States will impose sanctions on thirteen current or former Venezuelan government officials responsible for human rights abuses. “The expansion of targeted sanctions against Maduro cronies with Venezuelans’ blood on their hands is not only appropriate, it was necessary. The implosion of Venezuela has already claimed the lives of hundreds and left millions hungry and desperate, and yet, not one single Venezuelan government official or member of the security forces has been held accountable for their role in beating, shooting, jailing or killing of Venezuela’s citizens and democracy."
On July 31, the United States announced the designation of President Maduro to OFAC’s list of Specially Designated Nationals. Maduro had been directly responsible for Venezuela’s descent and for the destruction of democracy.
On 09 August 2017 the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on Venezuela, targeting members of the new all-powerful legislative body. Trump had been critical of Maduro's moves to consolidate power, describing him as a "dictator." It has also called the recent election in Venezuela of a new constituent assembly as "illegitimate." In imposing the sanctions, the administration also cited human rights violations and the undermining of the country's democracy as the political and financial crisis escalates. Credit Suisse bank banned the trading and use of Venezuelan bonds, citing "recent developments and the political climate" in the country.
Executive Order 13808 of August 24, 2017, among other things, prohibited transactions by a United States person or within the United States related to: certain new debt of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA); certain new debt or new equity of the Government of Venezuela; existing bonds issued by the Government of Venezuela prior to August 25, 2017; and dividend payments or other distributions of profits to the Government of Venezuela from any entity owned or controlled by the Government of Venezuela. In addition, E.O. 13808 prohibited the purchase by a U.S. person or within the United States of most securities from the Government of Venezuela.
CITGO, an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuela’s government Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., had revenue of $42.3 billion and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $1.8 billion in 2013. While Citgo was not directly sanctioned in August 2017, it was barred by name from transferring dividends or distributing profits to PDVSA or the Venezuelan government. Citgo had provided nearly $2.5 billion in dividends to its parent company since 2015.
The oil company’s half-million donation to Donald Trump’s Inaugural Committee, more money than Shell or Walmart, wasn’t illegal. The Inaugural Committee donation came days after Citgo mortgaged 49.9 percent of its holdings to Rosneft, an oil company controlled by the Kremlin. Former US Rep. Joe Kennedy famously appeared in ads praising Hugo Chávez for Citgo giving Boston cheap heating oil.
The Trump Administration’s sanctions and the open intervention by the U.S. government gave more cohesion to the Chavistas and significantly increased the role of national defense, security, independence and sovereignty as ideals able to mobilize support for Chavismo. Even Datanalisis, one of the most influential opposition aligned polling companies, acknowledged that approval of President Maduro had increased by almost 6 percent by the end of September 2017.
Executive Order 13827 of March 19, 2018 prohibited all transactions related to, provision of financing for, and other dealings in any digital currency, digital coin, or digital token issued by, for, or on behalf of the Government of Venezuela on or after January 9, 2018 wherein U.S. jurisdiction is implicated.
Executive Order 13850 of November 1, 2018, among other things, authorizes the imposition of blocking sanctions on persons determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary, to operate in the gold sector of the Venezuelan economy or in any other sector of the Venezuelan economy as may be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State. Moreover, it authorizes the imposition of blocking sanctions on persons determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged in, any transactions involving deceptive practices or corruption and the Government of Venezuela or projects or programs administered by the Government of Venezuela, or to be an immediate adult family member of such a person.
In November 2018, national security adviser John Bolton said : " The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere—Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua—has finally met its match. In Venezuela, the United States is acting against the dictator Maduro, who uses the same oppressive tactics that have been employed in Cuba for decades. He has installed an illegitimate Constituent Assembly, debased the currency for political gain and forced his people to sign up for a corrupt food distribution service or face certain starvation."
Maduro announced 23 January 2019 that he was cutting all diplomatic relations with the United States after Donald Trump recognized lawmaker Juan Gauido as interim president, after the opposition lawmaker self-appointed himself as president of the country. "They went too far. I have decided to break all diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist government of the United States. Out! They can all leave," Maduro said as he gave a speech from the presidential palace in Caracas. "They aim to rule Venezuela from Washington."
On January 24, 2019, the US State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members.
The US government should avoid getting involved in efforts to mount a coup or support regime change in Venezuela, Senator Bernie Sanders said in a press release 25 January 2019. "The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination for the Venezuelan people," Sanders said on Thursday. "However, we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups — as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries; we must not go down that road again."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said 30 April 2019 that the United States is prepared to intervene militarily to stem the ongoing unrest in Venezuela. "Military action is possible," the top U.S. diplomat told the Fox Business Network. "If that's what's required, that's what the United States will do." Pompeo, however, reiterated that the U.S. would prefer a peaceful transition of power in Caracas from socialist President Nicolas Maduro to the self-declared interim president, Juan Guaido, the president of the National Assembly who is recognized by the United States and about 50 other countries as the legitimate leader of the South American country.
Pompeo's signal that the U.S. could send troops to Venezuela drew a quick rebuke from Russia, a strong Maduro supporter. Moscow said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Pompeo in a phone call that further "aggressive steps" by the U.S. in Venezuela would be "fraught with the most serious consequences." The Russian diplomat denounced what he said was the United States' "interference" in Venezuela's internal affairs, calling it "a gross violation of international law."
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