US sanctions Venezuelan state oil firm, escalating pressure on Maduro

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration imposed sweeping sanctions on Venezuelan state-owned oil firm PDVSA, aimed at severely curbing the Opec member’s crude exports to the United States and at pressuring socialist
President Nicolas Maduro to step down.
Minutes before the announcement, Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader who proclaimed himself interim president last week with US backing, said congress would name new boards of directors to the company and its US subsidiary, Citgo.
Guaido, supported by the United States and most countries in the Western Hemisphere, says Maduro stole his re-election and must resign to allow new, fair polls.
Maduro, in a live national broadcast on Monday, accused the United States of trying to steal US refining arm Citgo Petroleum, the OPEC member’s most important foreign asset, which also manages a chain of US gas stations.
In the first sign of serious retaliation, three sources said that PDVSA had ordered customers with tankers waiting to load Venezuelan crude bound for the United States to prepay for the cargoes or they will not receive authorization to fill the vessels or leave the ports.
The Trump administration sanctions stopped short of banning US companies from buying Venezuelan oil, but because the proceeds of such sales will be put in a “blocked account,” PDVSA is likely to quickly stop shipping much crude to the United States, its top client.
“If the people in Venezuela want to continue to sell us oil, as long as the money goes into blocked accounts we will continue to take it, otherwise will we not be buying it,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at a White House briefing.
— Reuters