U.S. considers possible sanctions against Venezuela oil sector

The Trump administration is considering possible sanctions on Venezuela’s vital energy sector, including state oil company PDVSA, senior White House officials said, in what would be a major escalation of U.S. efforts to pressure the country’s embattled leftist government amid a crackdown on the opposition.

The idea of striking at the core of Venezuela’s economy, which relies on oil for some 95 percent of export revenues, has been discussed at high levels of the administration as part of a wide-ranging review of U.S. options, but officials said it remains under debate and action is not imminent. 

Moreover, the officials made clear that the administration is moving cautiously, mindful that if such an unprecedented step is taken it could deepen the country’s economic and social crisis, in which millions suffer food shortages and soaring inflation. Two months of anti-government unrest has left more than 60 people dead. 

The U.S. deliberations on new sanctions come against the backdrop of the worst protests faced yet by socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who critics accuse of human rights abuses in a clampdown on the opposition. 

The two administration officials said the United States is also prepared to impose further sanctions on senior officials it accuses of corruption, drug trafficking ties and involvement in what critics see as a campaign of political repression aimed at consolidating Maduro’s rule. 

The grounds for possibly sanctioning PDVSA would  be “to claim that they’re corrupt, for example, or that they’re abusers of human rights indirectly,” said one of the officials, without giving further details. “That’s enough. We have the legal authority to do that right now if we like,” the official said. 

“The concern we have is that it will be a very serious escalation,” one official said. “We’d have to be prepared to deal with the humanitarian consequences of essentially collapsing the government.”

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