The Trump administration intensified its interference in politically-fractured Venezuela on Monday by announcing the seizure of billions of dollars in assets connected to the nation’s state-owned oil company, a move critics decried as part of a “dangerous” U.S. policy to help opposition forces overthrow elected president Nicolás Maduro.

National Security Adviser John Bolton and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the sanctions imposed via executive order against Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA)—a primary source of income and foreign currency for the country—at a White House press briefing on Monday afternoon. They were joined by Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council.

Mnuchin vowed the United States “will continue to use all of our diplomatic and economic tools” to back Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself Venezuela’s “interim president.” The secretary made clear that “the path to sanctions relief for PdVSA is through the expeditious transfer of control to the interim president or a subsequent, democratically-elected government.”

As CNBC reported:

Mnuchin said PDVSA has long been a vehicle for embezzlement and corruption by officials and businessmen. The sanctions will prevent the nation’s oil wealth from being diverted to Maduro and will only be lifted when his regime hands control of PDVSA to a successor government, he added.[…]

Under the sanctions, U.S. companies can continue to purchase Venezuelan oil, but the payments must be held in an account that cannot be accessed by the Maduro regime.

“If the people in Venezuela want to continue to sell us oil, as long as that money goes into blocked accounts, we’ll continue to take it,” Mnuchin said. “Otherwise we will not be buying it.”

In addition to tightening economic restrictions on the Maduro government as a way to bolster the position of Guaidó, Bolton also issued a fresh threat of military action by telling reporters in the White House briefing room that Trump “has made it clear that all options are on the table” when it comes to next possible steps.

“This is very dangerous,” world-renowned economics professor and senior U.N. advisor Jeffrey D. Sachs warned on CNN Monday afternoon.

He expressed concern that the administration’s actions could cause immense suffering among the Venezuelan people, similar to the consequences endured by citizens of other countries subjected to U.S. interventions.

“The problem here is that these efforts by the United States to change other countries’ governments often lead to catastrophe,” Sachs noted, “as has happened all through the Middle East in recent years.”



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