Washington and Buenos Aires will continue to explore ways to increase pressure on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to “return to its Constitution,” with sanctions targeting Venezuelan oil exports mentioned as under consideration.
Speaking today after their meeting today in Buenos Aires, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stress nonetheless that any decision would have to consider the welfare of the Venezuelan people and not affect them adversely.
After underlining once again that Buenos Aires does not recognize the legitimacy of Venezuela’s “political process and authoritarian slide” and the limits on political rights among some members of the opposition, Faurie made it clear that any move would have to target the government itself and not the population.
“With respect to sanctions our idea is that they cannot affect the Venezuelan people but without a doubt must be able to control the government’s ability to finance itself directly or indirectly, that’s something very important. With regards to the sale of oil, and the trade of oil, it is particularly important that we carry out a very precise examination so that there’s a fine balance between what the Venezuelan people need and what is being used by the Venezuelan government’s officials.”
In turn, Tillerson said that the only objective with Venezuela was the holding of “free, fair and verifiable elections” and prohibiting sales of Venezuelan oil or derivatives in the United States “is something we continue to consider. Our disagreement is with the Venezuelan regime, not the Venezuelan people.
“So one of the aspects when considering sanctions on oil is what effect will it have on the Venezuelan people. Is it a step that might bring this to a more rapid end? Because not doing anything is also asking the Venezuelan people to suffer for a much longer time. So we are looking at options, and how to to mitigate impacts on US business interests. But there are also other countries in the region that it would affect as well and we want to be mindful not to harm them with actions that we take either.
“So it is under study, it’s under consideration, and we’ve had – we’ve had exchanges: when I was in Mexico City; we had an exchange today about it. And I think the point being that all of us in the region want to see Venezuela return to its constitution. We just – this is heart-wrenching to watch what is happening to the Venezuelan people. “
Oil-rich Venezuela accounted for about 5 percent of oil imports to the United States in November 2017, the month for which data is most recently available. However, the United States represents one of the major destinations for Venezuelan oil and oil products. Canada and the European Union have already instituted their own sanctions against members of the Maduro administration.
Faurie added that there had been talk of discussing such matters with members of the CARICOM (Carribean Community) so that the issues is taking up again at the Organization of American States (OAS), which the foreign minister said had been “paralyzed” recently.
Asked about whether or not Venezuela should be excluded from the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Peru in April, both Faurie and Tillerson said they deferred the decision to the government in Lima.
Since even before Mauricio Macri was sworn-in as president in December 2015 he has taken a diametrically opposed position to that of his predecessor with regards to Venezuela, earning him several taunts from the Maduro government. Caracas blames its economic and political crisis on US interventionism. Macri has already announced that Argentina will not recognise the outcome of early presidential elections.
On the bilateral side, Faurie noted that the Argentine government continues to engage in dialogue with respect to increased duties on biodiesels exports to the United States, citing comments by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about the possibility of an agreement.
In addition, both Tillerson and Faurie emphasized the health of the relationship and noted that cooperation in anti-narcotics, counter-terrorism and the upcoming G20 summit to be chaired by Argentina.
Tillerson meets with Macri tomorrow before departing for Peru.