Reuters reports that U.S. sanctions on Venezuela are having a dramatic impact on the country’s oil exports.

Venezuela’s oil exports sank 40 percent in the first full month after the beginning of U.S. sanctions designed to oust Socialist President Nicolas Maduro, according to data from state-run oil firm PDVSA and Refinitiv Eikon.

On Jan. 28, President Donald Trump’s administration barred U.S. customers from paying for Venezuelan oil until a new government being formed by the nation’s congress head Juan Guaido could be established to accept the proceeds…

“PDVSA (and) the whole nation has been under a brutal attack by the U.S. government to impact the company’s finances and operations,” Venezuelan Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo said on Thursday at a conference in Saudi Arabia.

Oil is Venezuela’s only real product, so a significant cut in oil exports is not going to be made up for by other goods. Gasoline will still be available at a heavily subsidized price in Venezuela, however, the country’s ability to use oil profits for other imports, including food and medicine could be severely impacted. In fact, the NY Times published a piece this morning suggesting that if Maduro’s regime drags on the result is going to be widespread starvation:

The Trump administration estimates that sanctions will cost the Venezuelan economy $11 billion, while some analysts estimate the cost to be as low as $4 billion. Either way, that’s a significant fraction of last year’s total goods imports of $11.7 billion. And last year’s imports were not enough to feed Venezuelan children. Already, 80 percent of Venezuelan families lack food security, and undernourishment has tripled…

Venezuelan children are facing sanctions on already empty stomachs. Missing more meals could condemn them to starvation.

That really does seem possible and yet the country was already drifting toward starvation before the new sanctions began. Children were already dying from lack of food and medicine. The only solution to the problem is the end of the Maduro regime.

On that front, Juan Guaido left Venezuela last week to attend a concert in Colombia and attempt to bring tons of needed supplies across the border. Instead, Maduro’s forces set fire to the relief trucks and closed the border. Maduro has promised that Russia would be sending 300 metric tons of aid but, according to the BBC, only about 7.5 tons of the promised aid has arrived.

Meanwhile, Guaido has said he will return to Venezuela despite threats that he will be arrested if he does so.

“I’m going to return to Caracas this week,” Guaido said in an interview with NTN24 broadcast on Tuesday. “My role and my duty is to be in Caracas despite the risks.”…

Guaido’s return will force Maduro to decide whether to risk even greater international outrage by attempting to arrest the 35-year old congress chief or to allow him to openly disregard state institutions linked to the ruling Socialist Party…

Maduro said in an ABC News interview released on Tuesday that Guaido’s fate was up to the justice system: “He can’t just come and go. He will have to face justice, and justice prohibited him from leaving the country. I will respect the laws.”

The justice system, of course, is stacked with Maduro loyalists. The country’s Supreme Court is a rubber stamp for his edicts. It’s easy to respect the laws when you’re literally rewriting them to suit you. So leaving Guaido’s fate up to the justice system is simply the hand of Maduro at one remove. No one does anything significant without his approval.

The UN will vote today on competing resolutions dealing with the crisis.

One is sponsored by the United States, which supports opposition leader Juan Guaido, and the other by Russia, which backs President Nicolas Maduro.

The U.S. resolution will be voted on first on Thursday afternoon and is likely to face a veto from Russia.

If the Russian alternative passes, it will be vetoed by the U.S. So it’s a stalemate. What we have now is a nation-sized hostage crisis. The only way this can end now is for Maduro to be gone, either by his own volition or against his will. But Russia, as always, is stepping up to the plate to defend one of the world’s worst dictators.

Finally, here’s a Vice report focusing on the colectivos, the paramilitary thugs who support Maduro through intimidation and murder: