Exclusive - U.S. considers possible sanctions against Venezuela oil sector - officials

Sun Jun 4, 2017 5:05am GMT
 

By Girish Gupta and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration is considering possible sanctions on Venezuela’s vital energy sector, including state oil company PDVSA, senior White House officials said, in what would be a major escalation of U.S. efforts to pressure the country’s embattled leftist government amid a crackdown on the opposition.

The idea of striking at the core of Venezuela’s economy, which relies on oil for some 95 percent of export revenues, has been discussed at high levels of the administration as part of a wide-ranging review of U.S. options, but officials said it remains under debate and action is not imminent.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the United States could hit PDVSA as part of a “sectoral” sanctions package that would take aim at the OPEC nation’s entire energy industry for the first time.

But they made clear that the administration is moving cautiously, mindful that if such an unprecedented step is taken it could deepen the country’s economic and social crisis, in which millions suffer food shortages and soaring inflation. Two months of anti-government unrest has left more than 60 people dead.

Another complicating factor would be the potential impact on oil shipments to the United States, for which Venezuela is the third largest oil supplier after Canada and Saudi Arabia. It accounted for 8 percent of U.S. oil imports in March, according to U.S. government figures.

“It’s being considered,” one of the officials told Reuters, saying aides to President Donald Trump have been tasked to have a recommendation on oil sector sanctions ready if needed.

“I don’t think we’re at a point to make a decision on it. But all options are on the table. We want to see the bad actors held to account.”

The U.S. deliberations on new sanctions come against the backdrop of the worst protests faced yet by socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who critics accuse of human rights abuses in a clampdown on the opposition.   Continued...

FILE PHOTO: An oil worker walks past a drilling rig at an oil well operated by Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA in Morichal July 28, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
 
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