Donald Trump just put Venezuela on notice

There wasn’t much coverage of this in the press last night, but after the Venezuelan people went to the polls and expressed their displeasure with President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to essentially scrap their constitution, the White House issued a surprisingly strong response. President Trump put out a statement saying that we will stand with the people of that country in defense of their democracy and threatened swift action against Maduro if he continues on with his plans.

Yesterday, the Venezuelan people again made clear that they stand for democracy, freedom, and rule of law. Yet their strong and courageous actions continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.

The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles. If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.

The United States once again calls for free and fair elections and stands with the people of Venezuela in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy.

The “strong and swift economic actions” are obviously in reference to additional sanctions rather than some sort of military intervention. (Thankfully we still don’t seem to have anyone in either party who’s stupid enough to consider that route.) There’s already been nearly universal condemnation of Maduro’s crackdown on his people and elimination of many of their few trappings of democracy (except from Turkey and a few other authoritarian regimes, of course), but little in the way of direct intervention. Sanctions and other punishments in the field of trade are likely the only tools at our disposal for the moment.

But the sanctions question could be tricky as well. At The Atlantic, Aria Bendix lists some of the potential pitfalls.

Should the U.S. decide to impose a new round of sanctions on Venezuela, it’s possible that Trump might target the nation’s energy sector, including its state oil company, PDVSA. Last month, senior White House officials told Reuters that the Trump administration was considering a “sectoral” sanctions package, but feared that a severe hit to Venezuela’s oil industry could exacerbate the nation’s economic and humanitarian crises. Sanctioning the nation’s energy sector could also have economic repercussions for the U.S., which relies on Venezuela for a significant share of its oil supply.

As far as the United States “relying on Venezuela for a significant share of its oil supply” goes, that’s a rather dubious statement. As recently as last year, Venezuela only accounted for 8% of our gross petroleum product imports. (Canada and Saudi Arabia account for 49% between them and both would be more than happy to up those numbers if we needed them to.) And in the months since then, Venezuela’s oil production has continued to tank as the socialist government’s mismanagement and robbery of the state operated system has run it into the ground. Their share this year is projected to be even lower.

The real concern is the point Bendix highlights in terms of bringing even more suffering down on the heads of the Venezuelan people. Maduro will continue to live well himself and keep his party leaders and sympathizers well fed, but the rank and file people in the streets may wind up with even less food and critical medical supplies. That, sadly, is a reality which can’t be avoided unless the people of Venezuela figure out a way to get Maduro out of office (either at the ballot box or by force) and hold new elections.

The suffering of the Venezuelan people is not the fault of the United States. The blame lies exclusively with their tyrant. If additional sanctions temporarily exacerbate the situation that is unwelcome news, but it may be unavoidable. The rest of the world can’t sit by and simply watch while the people of that nation fall under a continually darkening cloud of despotism.