Trump administration weighs oil sanctions on Venezuela as it steps up pressure

Vastavam web: The Trump administration ratcheted up pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday, signaling potential new sanctions against the country’s vital oil sector as it recognized Venezuela’s opposition leader as interim president. With street protests against Maduro under way across Venezuela, President Donald Trump said the United States recognized Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly congress, as the country’s leader and called socialist Maduro’s government “illegitimate.”

The United States, however, rejected Maduro’s move to cut ties, saying it did not think he had the authority to sever ties and it would conduct relations with a government led by Guaido. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned Maduro and his loyalists that Washington was ready to ramp up oil, gold and other sanctions and take unspecified actions “if they choose to harm any of the National Assembly members or any of the other duly legitimate officials of the government of Venezuela.”

Venezuelan opposition sympathizers had been urging Guaido to assume the presidency since Maduro was inaugurated for a second term on Jan. 10, following a widely boycotted election last year that many foreign governments characterized as fraudulent. Formal U.S recognition of Guaido could be complicated, however, by questions of how to deal with Venezuela’s U.S.-based diplomats and who would now control its bank accounts and other U.S. assets, which include Citgo, the U.S. refining arm of Venezuelan state-run oil company PDVSA.

U.S. recognition of Guaido could backfire if Maduro, who accused the opposition of attempting a coup, used it as a pretext to detain Guaido or other opposition figures. After Trump’s announcement, most major Latin American countries made similar moves recognizing Guaido, and a Canadian official said Ottawa would also follow suit. But leftist-governed Mexico said it continued to recognize Maduro as president. Rubio, who led a delegation of Florida lawmakers to discuss Venezuela with fellow Republican Trump on Tuesday, is considered to have played a major role since Trump took office in convincing him to take a tougher stand against Maduro.