Mon | Dec 11, 2017

US: Venezuela sanctions aimed at behaviour, not regime change

Published:Friday | September 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, shows a photo of jailed anti-government protesters, during a meeting with foreign journalists in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, August 29, 2017.The Trump administration has softened its tone, saying Thursday that sanctions are not meant to lead to regime change. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures after he casts his ballot as he votes for a constitutional assembly in Caracas, Venezuela on July 30. On Thursday, September 7, 2017, the Trump administration softened its tone saying sanctions imposed on Venezuela were not for regime change. (AP)
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New sanctions on Venezuela aren't aimed at regime change but rather to push President Nicolas Maduro's government to restore democratic standards after he started a process to rewrite his nation's constitution, a top United States official said on Thursday.

The comments by Rick Waddell, the White House's deputy national security adviser, suggest a softening in America's position. President Donald Trump last month suggested the US could consider military action against Venezuela and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised the idea of pressuring Maduro to leave power.

Waddell said sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in August are "behaviourally focused".

The set of penalties banned American financial institutions from providing new money to Venezuela's government or its state oil company, PDVSA. They also barred trading in two bonds the government recently issued to circumvent its increasing isolation from Western financial markets. Also, Venezuelan oil giant's US subsidiary, Citgo, can no longer send dividends back to Venezuela, which the government says will further crush its beleaguered economy.

"We would like the Venezuelan regime to return to democratic process," Waddell said. "We would like them to respect human rights. We would like them to respect property. That does not necessarily necessitate regime change."

Pressure on US

The United States has escalated its pressure on Venezuela as Maduro has consolidated power in recent months. More than 120 people have been killed during four months of protests against Maduro's plans to rewrite Venezuela's constitution. A referendum in July gave his allies the authority to start the process, even though the vote has been widely criticised at home and abroad for alleged fraud and a lack of oversight.

But Trump took the US into uncharted territory last month when he wouldn't rule out a US military action against Venezuela, even if no one in the US government has since indicated there are concrete plans for such an intervention. Tillerson, meanwhile, said the US was evaluating policy options to create conditions so that "either Maduro decides he doesn't have a future and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution.

The main American focus right now remains economic pressure.

The US "will continue to consider additional sanctions" on Venezuela, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters on Wednesday.

Waddell, meanwhile, also sought to send a message to China, which he said owns about US$60 billion in Venezuelan debt.

Asked if Venezuela might default, Waddell said that "all of us have seen Latin American defaults before, so there will be some kind of debt shakedown.

"If I were the Chinese central government or party, I am not sure how much more I would lend them," he said at the CAF Development Bank of Latin America's annual congress in Washington. "The Chinese regime has to worry at some point on being repaid."

The Venezuelan government and state oil company face a US$4-billion debt bill by the end of the year. It has only US$9.7 billion in international reserves on hand.

- AP