Venezuela needs the United States to buy 40% of its oil exports, because Gulf of Mexico refineries were designed precisely to process the thick Venezuelan and Mexican crudes that most refineries cannot easily handle. But in recent years, the United States has been replacing its imports of Latin American crude with similarly-heavy petroleum from Canadian oil sands fields.
If the United States does decide to try to tip the scales against Maduro’s regime in Caracas, that nation’s reliance on U.S. refineries makes for America’s greatest tool. Indeed, some U.S. politicians have requested that the Obama Administration cut imports as a means to pressure Venezuela’s besieged government. But encouraging revolution by inflicting greater pain on a people is both morally and strategically dubious.
Maduro, as with Chavez, cares little for the suffering of his people. And restricting imports would play directly into the Chavez-Maduro claim that the United States is behind all of Venezuela’s problems, from hangnails to halitosis. Other countries in the area also might see this as a form of bullying, something they’ve been sensitized to after many generations of U.S. interference in the area.
And make no mistake, China will be there to “help.”