(Washington Examiner, 1.Oct.2018) — Meeting with the president of Chile at the White House on Friday, President Trump pledged to continue confronting humanitarian suffering in Venezuela.
The president deserves credit for his sustained leadership on this issue, but the time has come for more dramatic action. Specifically, the U.S. should orchestrate a global boycott of Venezuelan oil exports. Only such a boycott will exert the necessary pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s despotic government to force it to change course.
Major change of some kind must come to the Latin American nation. Child starvation is skyrocketing, and prostitution is increasingly the only option for women who want to feed themselves and their children. Along Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Peru, tens of thousands of refugees are lining up begging for relief.
For those remaining in Hugo Chavez’s dystopian socialist paradise, medicine has disappeared and store shelves are empty. But the most damning indictment of the Maduro-Chavez socialist experiment is the fact that today, in the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves, the lucky few must lug vast bundles of worthless cash and spend hours in lines outside stores to buy their basic needs. The unlucky many waste away on the streets and in the slums of Maduro’s narco-state.
This is happening as Maduro, the great revolutionary, echoes Che Guevara, the Marxist thug of old, by smoking expensive cigars and dining at the world’s finest steakhouses.
This is a regime that must go. But how?
An American military intervention would be a grave error, as would instigating a coup. The lessons of Iraq and Libya are clear on this score.
We also recognize that many Latin American nations which support tougher action against Maduro nevertheless oppose military intervention. But nations such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru might support a strategy of economic pressure on Venezuela if engaged with honesty.
Maduro remains in power only because of the wealth he pockets by plundering his nation’s oil and exporting it. That’s why Washington has already restricted Maduro’s oil exports to America. That’s a good but insufficient step. President Trump could and should do far more.
Oil is a commodity sold in a global marketplace. Unilateral sanctions cannot work.
Trump should therefore replicate our policy towards Iran and announce that on a certain date in the next few months, the U.S. will introduce sanctions on foreign governments and businesses that buy Venezuelan oil or invest in the Venezuelan oil industry.
Given that China and India are Venezuela’s main oil export customers, the U.S. would have ample opportunity to drain Maduro’s wallet. After all, the U.S. is already engaged in a major trade conflict with China. By sanctioning its imports of Venezuelan oil, Trump wouldn’t simply put more pressure on Beijing, he would draw the world’s attention to the nature of President Xi Jinping’s regime, to the reality it cares nothing for the suffering of others or for international norms.
Referring to recent U.S. actions to earn favor in New Delhi, Trump could ask Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to wean the Indian economy off Maduro’s black gold. If necessary, Trump could offer India special access to American oil exports to offset losses. Many other Venezuelan oil export destinations are located in western Europe. Nations here make up a relatively small fraction of Venezuela’s total oil export base, but Trump should nevertheless press European governments to match their human rights rhetoric with action.
Oil export restrictions will impose extra suffering temporarily on Venezuelans. But look at the country now. Only Maduro and his cronies are benefitting from the exports.
Without oil wealth to pay off supporters, Maduro’s power is nonexistent. As the Miami Herald notes, much of Maduro’s ability to constrain his people centers on oil-bought support of the Cuban government and its highly capable intelligence services. If that oil support disappears, Cuba may find less reason to sustain Maduro’s rule.
Nevertheless, Maduro’s government is persecuting the Venezuelan people. Unless dramatic action is taken, their suffering will only increase. We can stop it, and we should do so now.