President Trump is continuing to put pressure on the government of Venezuela’s leftist President Nicolas Maduro, introducing a new round of sanctions designed to further rattle the embattled South American country’s oil exports.
Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton revealed that the president signed an executive order on Thursday to prohibit anyone in the U.S. from doing business with entities and individuals involved with “corrupt and deceptive” gold dealings from Venezuela, declaring that the Maduro regime “has used this sector as a bastion to finance illicit activities, to fill its coffers, and to support criminal groups.”
Bolton made the revelations late last week while addressing a crowd of mostly Cuban-Americans and other Hispanics at the Freedom Tower in Miami, Florida – the place where Cuban refugees were embraced in the 1960s in the aftermath of Fidel Castro’s revolt.
Over the past three years, more than 2 million Venezuelans have fled the country – creating a mass migration crisis that has threatened to destabilize Latin America. Food and medicine are said to be increasingly scarce across the country, with the UN calling it one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
The new sanctions only add to the already thick slate of restrictions – of which 70 Venezuelan individuals and entities, including the president and his wife, are banned from traveling to the U.S. or doing business with Americans or American companies.
The ailing nation this year turned to gold as a means of invigorating its fast-falling currency and moving away from oil dependency. Maduro declared war on illegal mining across the country, but his critics contend that the government continues to garner the rewards of the illicit gold trade.
In apprehension of U.S. regulations, in the first nine months of the year Venezuela exported some $900 million worth of gold through Turkey. Maduro has since responded publicly to the sanctions announcement, calling them “crazy” and “schizophrenic” in a televised statement. He stressed that Venezuela would not bow to U.S. imperialism, and insisted that a colossal mining project planned for 2019 would go ahead – financed by both public and private sectors – and generate $5 billion annually.
Maduro has consistently denied being at the root of any economic woes in Venezuela and instead blamed U.S.-backed adversaries and opposition leaders for waging fiscal wars and plotting to assassinate him.
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Bolton also emphasized that the new clampdown was part of a larger promise to punish and isolate Latin America’s “troika of tyranny” – pointing the finger at Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua – for disruptive and hostile behavior in the region. Bolton accused Cuba of supporting Maduro’s reign of terror in Venezuela and said that “within days” the State Department would also be adding more than two dozen Cuban organizations to a ban list given their ties to the country’s military and intelligence wings.
The Trump administration has endeavored to take a much harder line against the Cuban government and scale back some of Obama’s 2014 policies after restoring diplomatic relations.
Moreover, Bolton took aim at Nicaragua’s left-leaning leader Daniel Ortega for persecuting political opponents, vowing that the government “will feel the full weight of America’s robust sanctions regime.”
Meanwhile, the White House has shored up relations with right-sided regional leaders, including the governments of Colombia, Chile and the newly-elected President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Bolton insisted that the United States would “stand with the freedom fighters” and lauded the “like-minded” Bolsonaro – despite condemnation over his controversial remarks concerning women and minorities – as an important partner in the quest to “advance the rule of law.”
“Had a very good conversation with the newly elected President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who won his race by a substantial margin,” Trump tweeted Monday. “We agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else! Excellent call, wished him congrats!”