US weighs extending sanctions to Venezuela oil industry | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 05.02.2018
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US weighs extending sanctions to Venezuela oil industry

The US could broaden existing sanctions against Venezuela to cover the South American country's important oil industry. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the goal was to return Venezuela to a democratic path.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Buenos Aires on Sunday that an extension of sanctions against the South American state was under consideration.

"This is under study, it's under consideration," Tillerson said. "We've had exchanges in Mexico City, we've had exchanges today about it, and I think the point being that all of us in the region want to see Venezuela return to its constitution," said Tillerson, who is on a six-day trip to Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Mexico and Jamaica.

"We can no longer stand by and watch the destruction of Venezuelan democracy," he added, also calling for democratic elections and a "peaceful transition" to solve the country's political and economic crisis.

"The US wants free, fair and verifiable elections in Venezuela," he said.

Crisis ongoing

Venezuela has experienced triple-digit inflation, food and medicine shortages and protests over the last 12 months that have seen 120 people killed in clashes between protesters and government forces.

The situation intensified after President Nicolas Maduro's attempts last year to alter the constitution, with critics claiming the proposed reforms would in effect allow the executive to bypass parliament.

In late January the National Election Council was authorized to set an exact date for the next presidential election after the Constituent Assembly — a body dominated by Maduro's supporters — approved plans for an early vote. The election will now take place before April 30, seven months ahead of schedule — a move seen by critics as allowing Maduro to take advantage of disunity among the opposition.

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Follow the money

"One of the aspects of considering sanctioning oil is what effect would it have on the Venezuelan people, and is it a step that might bring this to an end, to a more rapid end?" Tillerson asked.

"Not doing anything to bring this to an end is also asking the Venezuelan people to suffer for a much longer time," the US' top diplomat added.

The US, the main consumer of oil exports from Venezuela, and the European Union last year imposed sanctions on over 50 individuals linked to the Maduro regime.

Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves and is the third-largest supplier to the US.

Tillerson said he also wanted to find ways to mitigate the negative effect sanctions would have on US oil companies, Venezuelans and other regional countries that rely on Venezuelan oil.

Support from Argentina

Tillerson urged Argentinian Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie to take tougher action against the Maduro government.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Tillerson, Faurie said Argentina did not recognize "the political process and authoritarian deviation of Venezuela," nor the assembly. He also said Argentina was against the restrictions on freedoms and bans imposed on opposition leaders under Maduro's government.

"We're always closely following the situation in Venezuela, which has now drifted toward a health and humanitarian crisis of extraordinary proportions," Faurie said.

jbh/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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