WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump
imposed a freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the
United States on Monday, sharply escalating an economic and
diplomatic pressure campaign aimed at removing socialist
President Nicolas Maduro from power.
The executive order signed by Trump goes well beyond the
sanctions imposed in recent months against Venezuela's state-run
oil company PDVSA and the country's financial sector,
as well as measures against dozens of Venezuelan officials and
Trump's action, the toughest yet against Maduro, not only
bans U.S. companies from dealings with the Venezuela government
but also appears to open the door to possible sanctions against
foreign firms or individuals that assist it.
Russian and Chinese companies are among those still doing
significant business in the South American OPEC nation.
"All property and interests in property of the Government of
Venezuela that are in the United States ... are blocked and may
not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise
dealt in," according to the executive order released by the
The scope of the announcement came as a surprise even to
some Trump administration allies. "This is big," said Ana
Quintana, senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a
conservative Washington think tank.
Quintana said it appeared the order would be a sweeping
embargo on doing business with Venezuela, although she was
awaiting further details.
Venezuela's Information Ministry did not respond immediately
to a request to comment.
The United States and most Western nations have called for
Maduro to step down and have recognized Venezuelan opposition
leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate president.
Guaido, accused by Maduro of mounting a U.S.-directed coup
attempt, appointed a board for Citgo Petroleum, Venezuela's most
important foreign asset, earlier this year.
Trump said on Thursday he was considering a quarantine or
blockade of Venezuela, although he did not elaborate at the time
on when or how such a blockade would be imposed.
He is taking more dramatic action after numerous rounds of
sanctions failed to turn Venezuela's military against Maduro or
make significant progress in dislodging him.
U.S. officials have long said they had other weapons in
their economic arsenal, even as they privately expressed
frustration that European partners and others had not taken
stronger steps and that the months-long pressure campaign had
not made more headway.
Trump said in a letter to Congress the freezing of assets
was necessary "in light of the continued usurpation of power by
the illegitimate Nicolas Maduro regime, as well as the regime's
human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest and detention of
Venezuelan citizens, curtailment of free press, and ongoing
attempts to undermine Interim President Juan Guaido."
His executive order also threatened sanctions against anyone
assisting Maduro or his loyalists, suggesting that Washington
could resort to so-called secondary sanctions against
third-country companies and individuals.
Fernando Cutz, a former top Trump adviser on Latin America,
said the executive order could be applied to non-U.S. firms and
entities, limiting their ability to do business with Venezuela
if they wanted to continue to deal with U.S. companies or banks.
China and Russia continue to trade oil with Venezuela. The
move could escalate tensions with China, already inflamed by a
tit-for-tat trade war, said Cutz, now a senior associate with
the Cohen Group, a consulting firm.
China and Russia - together with Cuba - have continued to
back Maduro, prompting U.S. national security adviser John
Bolton to warn Beijing and Moscow on Monday against doubling
down in their support for him.
Bolton is slated to give a speech on Tuesday morning at a
gathering of more than 50 countries in Lima, Peru, that would
outline a planned U.S. initiative to lead to a peaceful transfer
of power in Venezuela.
Moscow and Beijing turned down invitations to attend.
A White House official declined to comment on the
implications of the order for foreign companies doing business
in Venezuela, where an economic crisis has driven more than 3
million people to emigrate, fleeing hyperinflation and shortages
of food and medicine.
Trump's order allows exceptions for the delivery of food,
medicine and clothing "intended to be used to relieve human