The Trump administration on Monday slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, a decision intended to protect the country’s assets for opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who the White House recognizes as the legitimate leader of the country, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“There’s no question that what we’re trying to do is cut off the money to the regime that should not be in power, and make sure that President Guaidó has access to funds and has access to the assets of the country, and to make sure we protect these assets for the people of Venezuela,” Mnuchin said Tuesday during an interview with FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo.
Proceeds from PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil company that also owns U.S. oil refiner and petroleum product retailer Citgo, will now be withheld from disputed President Nicolas Maduro. Guaidó is regarded as Venezuela’s real leader by the U.S. and the European Union, while Russia and China have thrown their support behind Maduro.
But in order to protect Citgo from sanction headwinds, Mnuchin said the U.S. has been “very careful” in balancing this.
“I think, on the one hand, we’ve been able to cut off Venezuela oil going forward, but we’re managing this with the U.S. refineries,” he said.
The Trump administration has issued licenses to U.S. refineries that continue to operate in Venezuela; if Caracas wants to continue to sell the U.S. oil -- “which we’d like to buy” -- the money would go into blocked accounts that would be protected for the Venezuelan people, according to Mnuchin.
During the previous fiscal year, the U.S. imported roughly 505,300 barrels per day from Venezuela, about 6.4 percent of its total oil imports.
Last week, President Trump announced the “full weight” of U.S. power behind Guaidó, who invoked a protocol whereby the head of the assembly can become national leader if the office of the president has been wrongfully taken. He promised to retain control of the office until free elections are held.
Maduro, in response, said he was breaking ties with the U.S., giving diplomatic personnel 72 hours to leave the country.
Mnuchin suggested it was possible that the U.S. will levy another round of sanctions on a different Venezuelan industry to increase the pressure on Mauduro, but said the U.S. wanted to make sure things like medicine would continue to be available to the people.
“But we’ll always look at additional sanctions to make sure we protect the assets of the country for the people of Venezuela,” he added.
FOX Business Network's Trish Regan will interview Guaidó Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. ET.