U.S. Diplomat: Sanctions Likely For Countries 'Making Money On Venezuelans' Misery'

Feb 7, 2020

The Venezuela crisis is feeling a lot like the Cold War today. As Russia’s foreign minister arrived in Caracas Thursday night, the U.S. warned Moscow its aid to Venezuela will now have “costs.” WLRN spoke with the U.S.’s top diplomat on Venezuela to learn what that means.

James Story is chargé d’affaires at the Venezuela Affairs Unit, often referred to among Venezuela watchers as the “virtual” U.S. embassy for Venezuela since it’s located at the U.S. embassy in Colombia. The U.S. no longer has diplomatic ties with Venezuela's authoritarian regime, which is widely blamed for the worst economic collapse in the world today. Washington instead recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s constitutionally legitimate president.

Story was in Miami Thursday evening for a forum on Venezuela hosted by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. A day after Guaidó met with President Trump in the Oval Office, Story told WLRN a new round of economic sanctions may be in the offing – not just against Venezuela but its allies, like Russia.

“Secondary sanctions are certainly an area we have to pay very close attention to now," Story said. "There are certain companies who are making a lot of money on the misery of Venezuelans – from countries that have absolutely no desire to see an improvement in the situation in Venezuela.”

One Russian company likely targeted is the oil firm Rosneft, which is helping export Venezuelan crude in spite of U.S. efforts to block it. The U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, warned Thursday night this “will no longer be cost-free” for Russia. That’s a big reason Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is visiting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

But Story said beyond sanctions, the U.S. and the almost 60 other countries that recognize Guaidó need better coordination to oust Maduro.

“The international community, I think, we have to come together, operate together, in order to put that additional pressure on the regime to get to the negotiating table for free and fair presidential elections,” Story said.

The U.S. also worries Maduro may try to jail Guaidó when he returns to Venezuela iyn the coming days.

Those fears were heightened on Thursday when, perhaps in retaliation for Guaidó's huddle with Trump at the White House, the Maduro regime re-imprisoned six American executives from the Houston-based oil company Citgo. The executives were arrested in Venezuela in 2017 over corruption allegations they deny, but had recently been only under house arrest in Caracas. The Trump Administration accuses the Maduro regime of using the "Citgo 6" as pawns in the U.S.-Venezuela dispute.