U.S. President Donald Trump announced an executive order Monday night that will place a full economic embargo on Venezuela, escalating his administration’s campaign to oust leftist President Nicholas Maduro.
The executive order prohibits any financial transactions with the Venezuelan government and freezes all of its assets in the United States.
The Trump administration considers Maduro’s continued hold on power in the country to be a “usurpation” and has said that his re-election victory in 2018 was “illegitimate.” Venezuela’s main opposition parties boycotted the election after Maduro imprisoned, exiled or disqualified several of his political opponents.
In January, National Assembly leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president in close coordination with Washington, which swiftly recognized him as the country’s “legitimate” leader along with about 50 other U.S.-aligned countries.
But Maduro remains in power on the ground, and several attempts to topple his government have failed.
Though the executive order officially exempts food and medicine, some analysts have voiced concerns that the measure will have crushing humanitarian impacts.
A recent study from economists Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Jeffery Sachs from Columbia University estimated that prior U.S. sanctions, imposed in two main stages by the Trump administration since 2017, have resulted in the deaths of about 40,000 Venezuelans.
Venezuela is in the midst of a severe economic crisis that has led to extreme inflation and shortages of food, medicine and other goods. As of May, the United Nations estimated that three million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015.
Weisbrot told The Globe Post in May that the government’s mismanagement has been a significant factor in the country’s economic downturn, but that the role of U.S. sanctions in preventing a recovery has been widely overlooked in the narrative around the crisis.
Kate Kizer, the policy director at Win Without War, a leading progressive foreign policy advocacy group in the U.S., expressed concern that the embargo will significantly exacerbate human suffering in Venezuela and will only serve to embolden Maduro and undermine international efforts to bring about a diplomatic solution.
“The history of blanket U.S. sanctions makes clear that this approach does not and will not work – whether we’re talking about Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, or Cuba,” she told The Globe Post.
“This action, and the rest of Trump’s failed Venezuela policy, only further exacerbates the suffering of the Venezuelan people and does nothing to secure a peaceful democratic transition that gives all Venezuelans a voice in the future of their country.”
Trump’s efforts to oust Maduro are part of a larger campaign aimed at overthrowing leftist governments in the hemisphere that are not aligned with the U.S. Other regimes being targeted by Washington include those in Nicaragua and Cuba, which along with Venezuela make up what National Security Advisor John Bolton calls the “troika of tyranny.”
Trump maintains that the campaign against Maduro is about promoting human rights and democracy, and critics largely concede that the Venezuelan president has become increasingly authoritarian and has abused the rights of his citizens.
But analysts such as Daniel Bessner, a historian of U.S. foreign policy, and world-renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky, have told The Globe Post in prior interviews that American policy towards the region is motivated by a desire to promote U.S. business interests, control resources such as oil, and exert American hegemony over the hemisphere.
And though the opposition against Maduro within Venezuela has become increasingly emboldened in recent years, Eva Golinger, a former advisor to Hugo Chavez and Maduro critic, notes that the president retains at least tacit support from much of the working-class base that makes up the Chavismo movement.