U.S. Tightens Economic Vise on Venezuela

The White House wants to ensure U.S. banks cannot be used to help finance the expansion of undemocratic rule in Venezuela.
Matthew HellerAugust 25, 2017

The Trump administration on Friday imposed new sanctions on Venezuela, barring U.S. banks and investors from buying new bonds from the government or the state-run oil company in a move that could intensify the country’s financial crisis.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order authorizing a fourth round of sanctions against Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro has moved to consolidate his power and silence the opposition.

U.S. officials said the new restrictions ensure that U.S. financial institutions cannot be used to help finance or underwrite Maduro’s expansion of undemocratic rule.

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“Maduro may no longer take advantage of the American financial system to facilitate the wholesale looting of the Venezuelan economy at the expense of the Venezuelan people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “Today’s actions [are] the next step towards freedom for the Venezuelan people.”

The executive order also limits the trading of some existing bonds that are owned by Venezuela’s public sector. As the Washington Post reports, it “would prevent, for instance, a repeat of a $2.8 billion bond deal with Goldman Sachs reached earlier this year that gave the cash-strapped Venezuelan government an important lifeline.”

But the White House exempted Citgo, an oil refiner, retailer and transporter based in the U.S. and owned by the government’s Petróleos de Venezuela, from the sanctions, citing the need to “mitigate harm to the American and Venezuelan people.”

“Venezuelan heavy crude oil is crucial to some U.S. refiners, which are geared to handle that specific type,” the Post noted.

Siobhan Morden, managing director and Latin America expert at Nomura Holdings, said the new sanctions “won’t have any important impact in terms of financial flows to Venezuela, because there aren’t any to speak of right now. But it confirms what we know, that they now definitely do not have access to external capital.”

Venezuela’s national reserves have already hit 15-year lows of about $10 billion, most in gold bars, not cash. The country is also suffering from an annual inflation rate that reached 274% last year.