Washington — The US Treasury Department sanctioned 13 Venezuelan government officials Wednesday, including officials with state oil company PDVSA, in an effort to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to abandon plans for a controversial vote Sunday.
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In a call with reporters, a senior administration official said that President Donald Trump is expected to issue "strong and swift" sanctions on Venezuela, including a ban on imports of Venezuelan crude oil into the US, if Maduro goes forward with the vote Sunday to elect a constituent assembly to redraft the country's constitution.
"We are very concerned about the rapid erosion of democracy and the move towards dictatorship by President Maduro," the official said. "We see [Sunday] as a critical line that, if crossed, could mean the end of democracy in Venezuela."
Officials declined Wednesday to discuss in detail the specific oil-related sanctions they were considering and whether the sanctions would be imposed immediately after Sunday's vote or if they would be phased in.
"All options are on the table," an official said, adding that the administration had studied the potential impacts of imposing sanctions on Venezuelan crude. "The course that we choose to take will be up to [Trump] to decide."
An administration source told S&P Global Platts this week that Treasury is crafting sanctions that would prohibit the import of Venezuelan crude oil, but said the administration is not expected to impose Venezuelan oil sanctions, at least in the near term.
"Treasury is preparing them, but that doesn't mean they'll implement them," the source said.
Many within the Trump administration view sanctions on Venezuelan crude imports as having a more devastating effect on the US refining sector than on Venezuela's economy, likely limiting the chances of them being implemented, the administration source said.
If Venezuelan oil sanctions were imposed, US refiners, particularly along the Gulf of Mexico, would need to find new sources of heavy crude. While the US now imports about half of the amount of Venezuelan crude that it did 20 years ago, Venezuela remains a key supplier of the US Gulf refining market.
At 795,000 b/d, Venezuela was the largest supplier of imported crude into the USGC in April, according to the US Energy Information Administration, followed by Saudi Arabia at 714,000 b/d.
The sanctions announced Wednesday target Venezuelan government and military officials; two officials with CENCOEX, which sets the country's official exchange rate regime; and two PDVSA officials: Simon Alejandro Zerpa Delgado, PDVSA's vice president of finance, and Carlos Erik Malpica Flores, PDVSA's former vice president of finance.
"As President Trump has made clear, the United States will not ignore the Maduro regime's ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom, and the rule of law," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "As our sanctions demonstrate, the United States is standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy."
--Brian Scheid, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Annie Siebert, email@example.com