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U.S. Hits Venezuela’s Maduro Regime with Oil Sanctions and Possible Military Threat

U.S. pressure on the regime of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has stepped up dramatically with the imposition of sanctions on the country’s big state oil firm and hints at military intervention.

On Monday the Trump administration hit Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA, with sanctions that stop most U.S. businesses from dealing with it. Oil is the bedrock of the Venezuelan economy, or what’s left of it, so the White House expects the move to cut off the country’s biggest revenue and foreign-currency source.

“Maduro and his cronies have used state-owned PDVSA to control, manipulate, and steal from the Venezuelan people for too long, destroying it in the process,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Today’s action will prevent Maduro and other corrupt actors from further enriching themselves at the expense of the long-suffering Venezuelan people.”

The U.S. — along with Canada and much of Latin America — last week recognized Venezuelan National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s new interim president.

Maduro’s regime moved to sever diplomatic ties with the U.S. in response, before changing its mind. “I still believe in dialogue,” Maduro said.

However, at the briefing about the PDVSA sanctions, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton was photographed carrying a briefing pad that bore the words, “5,000 troops to Colombia.” Colombia borders Venezuela, and is not seen by Caracas as a friendly neighbor — new Colombian President Iván Duque has said since he assumed office that he does not recognize the Maduro regime as legitimate.

As the Washington Post noted, this raises “more questions about the potential for military action in Venezuela,” though the Pentagon said the Defense Department had as yet received no troop-movement orders, and the White House merely reiterated that “all options are on the table.”

Bolton’s notes could have been deliberately displayed to the media as an oblique threat to Maduro, though it is worth noting that the U.S. military has cooperated with Colombia’s military on war-on-drugs training for a very long time.