President Donald Trump on Friday slapped new sanctions on what the White House referred to as the “Maduro dictatorship” in Venezuela, despite recently warning he might utilize the U.S. military.
The move means, when it comes to imposing economic penalties on U.S. enemies and bad actors, Trump following in the footsteps of his predecessor.
The 45th president has devoted ample time to lessening Barack Obama’s legacy. But on the use of economic sanctions, Trump’s repeated use of them mimics Obama’s preferred tools of statecraft.
The sanctions prohibit U.S. firms from participating in the purchase of new debt or equity issued by the state-owned oil company and the Maduro government, which is rushing to sell off state assets to fund its autocratic rule.
The sanctions do not target oil company Citgo, however, which supplies about 10 percent of U.S. oil imports. But administration officials are leaving open the possibility of imposing further sanctions.
“We will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
“What President Trump has clearly done today is make sure that the U.S. financial system will not be complicit in any future further placement of debt that allows the Venezuelan government to finance this abhorrent behavior,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday.
Trump two weeks ago had said he was mulling a range of options as the South American country slid further into turmoil, including sending U.S. military forces there.
One senior Democrat quickly announced his support.
“I strongly support U.S. efforts to hold Nicolás Maduro and his cronies accountable while ensuring that the Venezuelan people — who have already suffered for far too long — are not forced to bear any further pain,” House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot L. Engel of New York said in a statement.
The new sanctions are the latest about-face for this president. On Aug. 11, Trump told reporters he has not ruled out a military option in Venezuela, calling the situation there a “mess.”
Trump’s military threat seemed to confuse members of his own administration and political party. Two days later, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a senior Armed Services Committee member, said he sees no reason to use U.S. military force in Venezuela.
And at just about every stop during a nearly weeklong trip across South America this month, Vice President Mike Pence emphasized economic and diplomatic solutions.
“The United States has many options, and we reserve those options, but we truly believe that by increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on the [Nicolas] Maduro regime, not just across the Americas but across the wider world, that we can achieve the restoration of democracy in Venezuela by peaceable means,” Pence said on Aug. 15.
The White House said Trump’s order, aiming to “mitigate harm to the American and Venezuelan people,” directs the Treasury Department to craft “general licenses that allow for transactions that would otherwise be prohibited by the executive order.”
The senior administration on Friday added another non-military tool the Trump administration intends to use against Maduro: legal maneuvers — though he did not explain further.
Even though candidate Trump harshly criticized Obama’s foreign policy, he has continued Obama’s penchant to impose economic penalties on foes. The president even recently signed legislation he opposed that put new sanctions on Russia, North Korea and Iran.
The Maduro regime brought the sanctions on itself, the Trump administration official said, saying it continues to “abuse the Venezuelan people and their constitutional rights.”
The new penalties are the fourth round imposed by the Trump administration since it took office, the senior official said, noting 30 individuals, including Maduro, have been specifically targeted.
The White House again on Friday reiterated its call for new elections there that must meet three criteria: they should be “fair, transparent and internationally monitored.” Maduro also must recognize the legitimacy of the country’s elected legislature, the official added.
Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.