U.S. warns of 'serious consequences' after Venezuela moves against Guaido

Jermaine Castillo
January 30, 2019

The United States announced sanctions against Venezuela's state oil company Monday in a coordinated effort with the main opposition leader to cripple embattled President Nicolas Maduro's power base.

National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters at the White House that Trump's action would block US$7 billion in Venezuelan assets and reduce the country's exports by US$11 billion over the next year, though Maduro is sure to attempt to sell PDVSA's crude elsewhere.

The Venezuelan opposition leader challenging Nicolas Maduro's claim to the presidency says he has spoken with U.S. President Donald Trump. Washington later said that it would conduct diplomatic relations through the government of "interim president".

In a defiant broadcast on national television later the same day, Maduro said he would take legal action to challenge the sanctions and defend Citgo Petroleum, PDVSA's US refining subsidiary, which he accused the United States of trying to steal.

The military is planning larger exercises on February 10-15, which Maduro said would be the "most important in the history of Venezuela".

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Venezuelan social media was alive with theories - that it had brought mercenaries, was there to escort Maduro into exile, or was loading up with gold.

"More than a new threat against me, against this parliament, against the acting president of this republic, there's nothing new", he said at the entrance to the National Assembly. Such prepayment could be in violation of the sanctions, setting the stage for a standoff at the ports. That's because Venezuela's oil shipments to China and Russian Federation are usually taken as repayment for billions of dollars in debts.

PDVSA is also seeking to sidestep the sanctions by asking major buyers, including US refiners, to renegotiate contracts, sources said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said that the US sanctions against PDVSA amounted to illegal interference in Venezuela's internal affairs, and that Russian Federation would use all the legal mechanisms at its disposal to protect its interests there. Brent crude futures surged 2.9% to $61.7 per barrel Tuesday morning on the news, while West Texas Intermediate futures rose 3.4% to $53.9 per barrel.

Maduro has accused the USA of leading an open coup against him to exploit Venezuela's oil reserves, the largest in the world.

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The anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela have led to the deaths of more than 40 people and the detention of some 850 people, including at least 77 minors, the United Nations' human rights office said Tuesday.

But U.S. refineries that buy large amounts of Venezuelan oil could suffer.

Mr Maduro remains in control of the country because of support from the military, despite massive protests against his Government amid an economic crisis that has caused millions to flee the country. He said only that all his talks with heads of state have focused on resolving Venezuela's humanitarian crisis and restoring democracy.

China believes that Venezuela's affairs must and can only be decided by the its own people, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Friday.

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