Will Trump's sanctions on Venezuela backfire?

US could be biggest loser under plans to punish rogue South American nation

Nicolas Maduro
(Image credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on eight more individuals loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro this week in a strategy shift that aims to punish regime supporters rather than the nation.

Last month the US promised "strong and swift economic actions" against Venezuela but so far the country hasn't felt them.

"No such action has materialised, leading some of Maduro's opponents to wonder whether the US president has lost his nerve," The Associated Press reports.

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The latest sanctions target eight Venezuelan politicians and security figures involved in creating the Constituent Assembly, the "all-powerful legislative body" loyal to Maduro that will rewrite the constitution, reports New York Magazine.

The individuals, who include Adan Coromoto Chavez Frias, brother of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, will have any US assets frozen. They will also be banned from travelling to America. Since protests began in April, Trump's administration has targeted 30 Venezuelan individuals in all.

Far from cowering, however, Venezuelans celebrate the newly sanctioned.

"Most Venezuelan officials wear US sanctions as a badge of honour," The Associated Press (AP) reports, adding that promotions are often handed to individuals who've been sanctioned.

"It's doubtful these sanctions will be enough to pressure Maduro and his allies to back off their power grab," New York magazine reports.

The problem is that Washington needs Venezuela's oil. A ban on petroleum imports from Venezuela – the US's third-largest supplier – would hurt "hurt US jobs and drive up gas costs", AP says. Many American refineries are designed for handling the type of heavy crude oil Venezuela exports. Replacing those supplies would be costly.

"We want to make sure that we don't have the unintended consequence of doing more harm to US refineries than the Maduro regime," Chet Thompson, CEO of a group representing 95 per cent of America's refining sector, told AP.

Some Senate Republicans could soon join the lobby. Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican who sits on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is planning to raise similar concerns about the impact on the US fuel market.

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