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Celebrated Abroad, Juan Guaidó Faces Critical Test in Venezuela


BOGOTÁ, Colombia — When the leader of Venezuela’s opposition landed in Caracas this week following a world tour meant to drum up support for regime change, his country’s authoritarian ruler handed him neither an arrest, which would have galvanized supporters, nor the chance for a hero’s welcome at the airport.

Instead, President Nicolás Maduro appeared to greet his rival, Juan Guaidó, with the same policy of slow strangulation that has drained the opposition of much of its momentum over the past year, cracking down on his movement enough to wear down its members, but without going so far as to spur the world to action.

Moments before Mr. Guaidó arrived, Mr. Maduro’s supporters attacked journalists who were there to cover his arrival, punching them and dragging at least one woman by the hair. Once Mr. Guaidó landed, government backers chased him out of the airport, cutting off any plans he had to make a speech, and then attacked his car with traffic cones and at least one metal pole.

And as Mr. Guaidó slipped through, authorities arrested his uncle, accusing him, without presenting evidence, of bringing explosives into the country.

Hours later, Mr. Guaidó stood with a few hundred supporters in a plaza in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas and declared victory.

“I defied the dictatorship and I entered the country,” he said. “Venezuela is going to be democratic and free.”

Mr. Guaidó also said he would be announcing the creation of a “Venezuela Fund,” a multilateral program meant to help the country recover from its long and devastating economic crisis.

[Update: The U.S. has imposed sanctions on the Russian oil company supporting Venezuela’s leader.]

But he offered no other plan to remove Mr. Maduro. That, along with his chaotic arrival and the growing frustration among his base caused by the glacial pace of change, spoke eloquently about the challenges Mr. Guaidó is facing at home.

On Tuesday, as Mr. Guaidó arrived in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, Mr. Maduro’s most powerful ally, Diosdado Cabello, mocked the size of the crowd that had come to receive him at the airport and belittled his movement.

Mr. Guaidó issued a direct challenge to Mr. Maduro a year ago, when he pointed to irregularities in Mr. Maduro’s re-election and claimed to be the country’s interim president, earning the support of millions of Venezuelans and dozens of foreign governments, including the United States.

Since then, despite the United State’s use of crippling sanctions to hurt the country’s economy and try to force the ouster of Mr. Maduro, Mr. Guaidó has not managed to seize power and call new presidential elections — his stated goals.

On Jan. 19, he left the country to shore up greater support abroad, defying a travel ban imposed by Mr. Maduro’s government. On his trip, he made headlines when he sat down with President Trump and was given a prominent place at the state of the union address. There, Mr. Trump championed the opposition leader’s efforts.

Mr. Guaidó also met with Angela Merkel of Germany and Emmanuel Macron of France, and was welcomed by thousands of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans in Florida.

Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, signaled that substantive action could be on the way, including sanctions on Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft.

Oil buoys the Venezuela economy, and Rosneft has been the country’s main shipper of crude.

Internationally, Mr. Guaidó looked strong.

But at home, nothing had changed, and Mr. Maduro remained firmly in control of the country, playing what appears to be a long game of attrition.

Mr. Guaidó is also barreling toward a crisis point that poses a critical threat to the opposition, and to his claim to being the country’s interim president.

The National Assembly, the legislature, is the last major political body in the country that the opposition claims to control. But 2020 is an election year for the assembly, and Mr. Maduro’s opponents are divided over whether to participate.

If the opposition does take part, they risk legitimizing a potentially rigged election. If they don’t, they risk handing control to Mr. Maduro.

Mr. Guaidó, so far, has not declared a position.

Phil Gunson, a Caracas-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, said no matter what the opposition decides, Mr. Maduro is likely to take over the assembly this year.

But if Mr. Guaidó does not make a decision — and soon — he risks irrelevancy.

“There can be no more beating around the bush,” Mr. Gunson said. “He has to be a leader.”



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Americas World

Celebrated Abroad, Juan Guaidó Faces Critical Test in Venezuela


BOGOTÁ, Colombia — When the leader of Venezuela’s opposition landed in Caracas this week following a world tour meant to drum up support for regime change, his country’s authoritarian ruler handed him neither an arrest, which would have galvanized supporters, nor the chance for a hero’s welcome at the airport.

Instead, President Nicolás Maduro appeared to greet his rival, Juan Guaidó, with the same policy of slow strangulation that has drained the opposition of much of its momentum over the past year, cracking down on his movement enough to wear down its members, but without going so far as to spur the world to action.

Moments before Mr. Guaidó arrived, Mr. Maduro’s supporters attacked journalists who were there to cover his arrival, punching them and dragging at least one woman by the hair. Once Mr. Guaidó landed, government backers chased him out of the airport, cutting off any plans he had to make a speech, and then attacked his car with traffic cones and at least one metal pole.

And as Mr. Guaidó slipped through, authorities arrested his uncle, accusing him, without presenting evidence, of bringing explosives into the country.

Hours later, Mr. Guaidó stood with a few hundred supporters in a plaza in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas and declared victory.

“I defied the dictatorship and I entered the country,” he said. “Venezuela is going to be democratic and free.”

Mr. Guaidó also said he would be announcing the creation of a “Venezuela Fund,” a multilateral program meant to help the country recover from its long and devastating economic crisis.

But he offered no other plan to remove Mr. Maduro. That, along with his chaotic arrival and the growing frustration among his base caused by the glacial pace of change, spoke eloquently about the challenges Mr. Guaidó is facing at home.

On Tuesday, as Mr. Guaidó arrived in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, Mr. Maduro’s most powerful ally, Diosdado Cabello, mocked the size of the crowd that had come to receive him at the airport and belittled his movement.

Mr. Guaidó issued a direct challenge to Mr. Maduro a year ago, when he pointed to irregularities in Mr. Maduro’s re-election and claimed to be the country’s interim president, earning the support of millions of Venezuelans and dozens of foreign governments, including the United States.

Since then, despite the United State’s use of crippling sanctions to hurt the country’s economy and try to force the ouster of Mr. Maduro, Mr. Guaidó has not managed to seize power and call new presidential elections — his stated goals.

On Jan. 19, he left the country to shore up greater support abroad, defying a travel ban imposed by Mr. Maduro’s government. On his trip, he made headlines when he sat down with President Trump and was given a prominent place at the state of the union address. There, Mr. Trump championed the opposition leader’s efforts.

Mr. Guaidó also met with Angela Merkel of Germany and Emmanuel Macron of France, and was welcomed by thousands of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans in Florida.

Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, signaled that substantive action could be on the way, including sanctions on Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft.

Oil buoys the Venezuela economy, and Rosneft has been the country’s main shipper of crude.

Internationally, Mr. Guaidó looked strong.

But at home, nothing had changed, and Mr. Maduro remained firmly in control of the country, playing what appears to be a long game of attrition.

Mr. Guaidó is also barreling toward a crisis point that poses a critical threat to the opposition, and to his claim to being the country’s interim president.

The National Assembly, the legislature, is the last major political body in the country that the opposition claims to control. But 2020 is an election year for the assembly, and Mr. Maduro’s opponents are divided over whether to participate.

If the opposition does take part, they risk legitimizing a potentially rigged election. If they don’t, they risk handing control to Mr. Maduro.

Mr. Guaidó, so far, has not declared a position.

Phil Gunson, a Caracas-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, said no matter what the opposition decides, Mr. Maduro is likely to take over the assembly this year.

But if Mr. Guaidó does not make a decision — and soon — he risks irrelevancy.

“There can be no more beating around the bush,” Mr. Gunson said. “He has to be a leader.”



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Guaidó, Promising Change for Venezuela, Fails to Conquer Davos


DAVOS, Switzerland — This time last year, Juan Guaidó would have been the toast of Davos. Mr. Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader, had just led a wave of popular unrest to win the presidency of Venezuela’s National Assembly and declared himself the true leader of his crisis-ridden country.

But as Mr. Guaidó made the rounds at this year’s gathering of political and business figures — having come to Europe in defiance of a travel ban at home — he seemed like a man whose moment had passed.

With Venezuela’s repressive president, Nicolás Maduro, still firmly entrenched in power, and with Mr. Guaidó’s most prominent backer, President Trump, distracted by his Senate trial and his re-election campaign, the embattled Venezuelan spent most of his time answering questions about why he had not succeeded in toppling Mr. Maduro.

“We underestimated the ability of the regime to do bad,” Mr. Guaidó told a half-filled hall where, two days earlier, Mr. Trump had spoken to a standing-room-only crowd. “We are really climbing a mountain at the moment.”

Mr. Guaidó insisted that he and his supporters would still uproot the Maduro government. He urged European leaders to crack down on Venezuela’s gold trade, which he said had helped consolidate Mr. Maduro’s control by providing a means of foreign exchange and helping to secure the loyalty of the military.

But Mr. Guaidó struggled to offer fresh ideas for how governments could tighten the pressure on Mr. Maduro. Venezuela is already under heavy sanctions, which have so far failed to dislodge him. In an election year, the United States is less likely than ever to consider more aggressive options, like military intervention.

In Washington, the most vocal proponent of Mr. Guaidó — the former national security adviser John R. Bolton — has left the administration. Mr. Trump did not mention Venezuela during his speech in Davos; he left the Alpine ski resort on Wednesday without seeing Mr. Guaidó.

That left the Venezuelan with a lineup of meetings that included the leaders of Austria, Greece and the Netherlands, as well as a session with a Davos regular, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. On Tuesday, Mr. Guaidó met in London with Britain’s current prime minister, Boris Johnson.

“The idea behind all these meetings is the same,” Mr. Guaidó said to journalists, speaking through a translator. “People should stop seeing Venezuela as an insoluble problem.”

But then he likened Venezuela to Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan — three war-torn states that are often viewed as insoluble problems.

Although Venezuela is not in a state of war, Mr. Guaidó noted that millions of people had fled the country in search of food or medical care. Those who remain behind are in grinding poverty, living on wages of as little as $3.50 a month, even for nurses and other professionals. The government has turned up its repression, jailing and torturing members of the opposition.

Mr. Guaidó himself took a big risk in leaving the country. He declined to describe how he evaded security forces, except to say that they were not particularly efficient, and his team managed to distract them. Still, Mr. Guaidó faces the possibility of harsh reprisals when he returns home.

“Going back to Venezuela will not be easy,” he said. “I do hope I can get home safe and sound.”

Just before flying to Europe, Mr. Guaidó met Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Bogotá, Colombia. The United States is one of more than 50 countries that recognizes Mr. Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Mr. Pompeo insisted the administration had not retreated in its determination to see Mr. Maduro ousted, and expressed hope that it could still happen.

“I’ve heard this idea that we’ve underestimated Maduro,” Mr. Pompeo said to reporters. “What’s been underestimated is the desire for freedom that rests in the hearts of the Venezuelan people.”

American officials said Mr. Guaidó’s visit to Davos was valuable because it would put a human face on the struggle in Venezuela. Despite making headlines over the past year, Mr. Guaidó, 36, remains something of an abstraction to people outside Latin America, according to a senior official. By telling his own story, this person said, Mr. Guaidó could still mobilize support among the Europeans, who would be critical in imposing effective sanctions and halting the gold trade.

As Mr. Guaidó analyzed his problems over the last year, he pointed to an offer made by the opposition of amnesty to members of the military who would agree to turn against the Maduro government. The offer did not peel away senior officers, in part because Mr. Maduro gave them access to lucrative gold mines. They have remained a bulwark of support for him.

“We tried to do this, but it sort of rebounded on us,” Mr. Guaidó said. “It is really the top brass of the military that are behind him.”



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Americas World

Venezuela Opposition Leader Defies Travel Ban to Woo Support Abroad


MARACAIBO, Venezuela — Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, defied a travel ban and crossed into Colombia on Sunday to round up greater international support for regime change in Venezuela.

Mr. Guaidó, who is recognized by the United States and more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s president, and his fellow opposition members are facing increased repression, and his popularity at home is waning.

So, under growing pressure to score even a minor victory against the government of President Nicolás Maduro, he has once again turned to diplomacy — one of his strong suits — to shore up support from allies abroad.

“Now in Colombia,” Mr. Guaidó said on Twitter on Sunday. “I assure you the return to our country will be full of good news.”

Mr. Guaidó was to meet with the Colombian president, Iván Duque, who welcomed him with his own tweet on Sunday, and with Mike Pompeo, the United States secretary of state, who is visiting Bogotá ahead of a trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Mr. Guaidó is also bound for Davos.

After years in which President Maduro used repression and electoral machinations to stay in power, despite a crippling recession that left many without enough to eat or adequate medical care, Mr. Guaidó, the head of the country’s National Assembly, challenged his leadership. About a year ago, pronouncing the most recent presidential election a fraud, he declared himself interim president and called for new elections.

President Trump endorsed the opposition leader just minutes after that declaration, and he has remained one of Mr. Guaidó’s strongest international supporters. He followed up his initial recognition with a series of punishing economic sanctions aimed at Mr. Maduro and his government in an attempt to force him to cede power.

But as Mr. Guaidó’s campaign to take power waned over the past year, Washington eased the pressure on Mr. Maduro and turned its attention to the Middle East. That allowed Mr. Maduro to adapt to sanctions, stabilize exports and consolidate political power.

In a sign of the government’s growing confidence, this month Mr. Maduro moved to take over the opposition’s last stronghold, the National Assembly. The government tried to block opposition lawmakers, including Mr. Guaidó, from entering the building, and it installed in their place a rival congressional leadership made up of defectors from the opposition. Most Western and Latin American countries considered the move illegal.

Mr. Guaidó’s trip on Sunday, which he did not announce ahead of time, sets up a critical test for Mr. Maduro.

If Mr. Maduro arrests Mr. Guaidó upon his return to Venezuela, that could rally domestic and international support around the opposition leader. But if Mr. Maduro allows him to return, he could seem powerless to enforce his own government’s travel ban.

Mr. Guaidó had defied the travel ban in the past, crossing into Colombia through illegal trails controlled by criminal gangs in February to meet with regional leaders. He returned in spectacular fashion to cheering crowds a week later, receiving an entry stamp at the country’s main international airport, despite a series of criminal investigations opened against him by the government.

While that trip created a short-term boost for Mr. Guaidó, it yielded few tangible gains and left the opposition without a leader at a crucial time in its struggle against Mr. Maduro.

Julie Turkewitz reported from Maracaibo, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Caracas.



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U.S. Bet Guaidó Could Transform Venezuela. It Hasn’t Happened.


He spent one of last days of 2019 delivering presents to children in La Guaira, trailed by two government minders on motorbikes. In a lengthy interview between toy drops, he said his wife, Fabiana Rosales, and their toddler are followed even to their daughter’s preschool.

The rented apartment they share in a middle-class neighborhood in Caracas is half-empty, the home of a man who seems unsure where he will sleep tomorrow. The television is on the floor, child’s toys are stuffed in a corner, and the walls are bare, save for a large portrait of a Venezuelan nun named María de San José, known for aiding the ill.

Like many Venezuelans in the capital, he has running water about two hours a day.

At one point, when he raised the topic of his mother, who left the country for medical treatment that she could not find in Venezuela, his eyes turned red and he began to cry. “Of course I miss her,” he said.

Mr. Guaidó’s popularity has declined significantly in the last year, according to polling from the Caracas firm Datanálasis. But he remains the most popular politician in the country, according to the firm.

And in an interview, the firm’s director, José Gil Yepes, said Mr. Guaidó’s popularity may rise in the coming weeks, “because of all the things the government did wrong” on Sunday.

Mayrely Calderón, 39, a pharmacist, was among those who remained faithful to Mr. Guaidó. “He’s the one who will help us get rid of Maduro,” she said.

Julie Turkewitz and Ana Vanessa Herrero reported from Caracas. Lara Jakes reported from Washington.



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Americas World

Venezuela to Join U.N. Human Rights Council, Despite Track Record


The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday voted to add Venezuela to its 47-member Human Rights Council, despite stringent opposition from activists denouncing the country’s human rights record under its president, Nicolás Maduro.

Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch, called the selection of Venezuela “a slap in the face to the country’s countless victims.”

Venezuela has been in a state of economic collapse for years, which has led to dangerous shortages of food, medication and electricity. Among other abuses, Mr. Maduro and his administration have been accused of withholding from the public humanitarian aid from other nations and of manipulating voters in exchange for food and medical care.

The United Nations’ own humanitarian affairs chief estimated this spring that about one-quarter of Venezuela’s population, or seven million people, were in need of humanitarian aid. Conditions there have caused millions of Venezuelans to flee the country, largely on foot.

Activists urged the General Assembly’s members to throw their support behind Costa Rica, which was competing with Venezuela and Brazil for two open Latin American and Caribbean seats on the council. But in Thursday’s vote, The Associated Press reported, Brazil won 153 votes and Venezuela 105 votes, while Costa Rica received 96.

“The UN General Assembly should recognize that electing serial rights abusers like Venezuela betrays the fundamental principles it set out when it created the Human Rights Council,” Mr. Bolopion wrote.

The Human Rights Council was established in 2006 to replace the United Nations’ beleaguered Human Rights Commission, which was largely discredited for allowing human rights abusers to be members. The council’s objective is to strengthen and protect human rights around the world and to address violations.

But the council, which admits members for staggered three-year terms, has also regularly been criticized, including for admitting members suspected of rights violations.

Other nations with a recent history of human-rights complaints were also elected to the council on Thursday — notably, Sudan, Libya and Mauritania, which joined Namibia in an uncontested race for the African region.

In Thursday’s vote, the General Assembly filled 14 open council seats. In one contested race, Iraq lost in the Asian group to Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and the Marshall Islands. In another, Moldova lost in the Eastern Europe group to Armenia and Poland. In the Western European group, Germany and the Netherlands were admitted.

The United States left the council in June 2018, in protest of its frequent denunciations of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Iran, North Korea and Eritrea are the only other countries that refuse to participate.

In a statement on Thursday, Kelly Craft, the United States representative to the United Nations, condemned the vote, writing: “I am personally aggrieved that 105 countries voted in favor of this affront to human life and dignity. It provides ironclad proof that the Human Rights Council is broken and reinforces why the United States withdrew.”



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With Tougher U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela, Bolton Says ‘Time for Dialogue Is Over’


The oil sanctions pushed Venezuela’s already unraveling economy into a tailspin, but Mr. Maduro has been able to keep some revenue flowing by readjusting the country’s foreign trade to Asia, Russia and Turkey. In April, he quashed Mr. Guaidó’s attempt to provoke a military uprising and doubled down on repression and state surveillance to tighten his grip on power.

Analysts said the new sanctions will allow Mr. Maduro to blame the economic crisis, which began when he took office in 2013, on the trade barriers imposed by the United States. It is a propaganda message long employed by his government’s closest ally, Cuba.

Neil Bhatiya, a sanctions expert at the Center for New American Security in Washington, said it is not clear from the text of Mr. Trump’s order how aggressively the new sanctions will pursue global companies that do business with Venezuela’s government, or firms linked to it.

He suggested the action could amount to a scare tactic — with widespread economic and strategic implications — that could backfire on the United States, as it could push Venezuela closer to United States’ rivals like Russian and China and could isolate American companies in the country for years, he said.

“That would be obviously the opposite of the intent of the administration in pursuing this goal,” Mr. Bhatiya said. “They want to see Maduro leave, but I think it is in the realm of the plausible that he is able to stay for an indefinite period of time, because he is being bailed out by countries we can’t touch.”

In Lima, Mr. Bolton mentioned Cuba nine times in 12 minutes, saying that extreme economic pressure will “work in Venezuela and it will work in Cuba.” The United States has banned most trade with Cuba since 1962, without toppling its government.

But the message seemed aimed at American voters, particularly in Florida, said Geoff Ramsey, head of the Venezuela program at the Washington Office on Latin America. Florida has a large Cuban-American population and is crucial to Mr. Trump’s re-election prospects.



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Trump administration imposes total economic embargo against Venezuela



Donald Trump has increased existing sanctions against Venezuela, freezing the government’s assets as the US escalates an economic effort to force Nicolás Maduro out of power. 

The Venezuelan president’s administration joins Cuba, North Korea, Syria and Iran on a short list of US adversaries who face similarly severe embargoes. 

“I have determined that is is necessary to block the property of the Government of Venezuela in light of the continued usurpation of power by the illegitimate Nicolas Maduro regime, as well as the regime’s human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest and detention of Venezuelan citizens, curtailment of free press, and ongoing attempts to undermine Interim President Juan Guaido of Venezuela and the democratically-elected Venezuelan National Assembly,” Mr Trump wrote in a Monday letter to congressional leaders. 


American citizens and companies will no longer be allowed to conduct any business with the Maduro administration and its allies, the Associated Press reported. While the country can maintain its private sector under the sanctions, foreign groups that conduct business with the Venezuelan government can also face economic punishments from the US.

The US sanctions permit certain exceptions, including for food and medicine.

The announcement arrived as leaders from dozens of countries met in Peru to discuss the crisis in Venezuela on Tuesday in a meeting aiming to “restore democracy” in the country. US National Security Adviser John Bolton represented the US at the meetings, along with US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross. 

Russia, China, Cuba and Turkey all declined to join the international meeting, and have expressed their support for the Maduro administration. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mr Bolton said the US was implementing the measures “to ensure that Maduro runs out of ways to financially sustain himself.”

The Trump administration supported Mr Guaido immediately after he announced his intention to become the next interim president of Venezuela, following an election last year in which Mr Maduro won another six-year term despite international groups saying it was an unfair and rigged process. 

“In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant,” Mr Trump said in a statement at the time. 

“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” he added.


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Venezuela’s economy has fallen further into economic collapse throughout the year after the US imposed an initial round of sanctions that severely limited the country’s national oil company. 

The latest sanctions also include an economic freeze on US assets owned by over 100 officials and others close to the Maduro administration, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. 



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Americas World

Trump Imposes New Sanctions on Venezuela


The test, Mr. Cutz said on Monday night, is whether the new sanctions prevent Russia and China from receiving Venezuelan oil as part of a debt repayment program. If so, he said, “that’s a pretty significant thing, and then the question is how Russia and China will respond, more than anything else.”

He said that Russia was close to being paid in full for its debt relief to Venezuela, but that China was on pace to be receiving oil from the South American country until early 2021. “They might stand to lose more,” said Mr. Cutz, who is now at the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington.

Venezuela’s imports per capita have already fallen to the lowest level since the 1950s. The country’s imports totaled just $303 million in April, down 92 percent from the same month in 2012, according to Torino Capital.

Venezuela’s economy was already forecast to decline 35 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. By the end of this year, the country’s gross domestic product will have shrunk by two-thirds since 2013, making it the largest economic collapse in a country outside of war since at least the 1970s.

The sanctions could also strain the lackluster political negotiations between Mr. Maduro and the country’s opposition, now based in Barbados and Norway, which many political analysts see as a final chance for a peaceful political transition in the country. Mr. Maduro’s negotiators have offered the opposition a prospect of presidential elections in return for the lifting of American sanctions — a possibility made more distant by the Trump administration’s action.

The order includes an exception for humanitarian goods such as food, clothing and medicine.

After Mr. Trump responded affirmatively to a reporter’s question last week about whether he was considering an embargo against Venezuela, an angry Mr. Maduro said on state television Friday that such a move would be “clearly illegal.” Mr. Maduro said he had asked Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations to protest the threat at the United Nations Security Council.

Trump officials have been frustrated by support for the Maduro government from Russia, China and Cuba, but have been able to do little to prevent it.

But Mr. Trump has happily embraced Venezuela’s socialist government as a political talking point, repeatedly citing its devastated economy as a cautionary tale of what he says Democrats would do if they were to win power in the United States. Mr. Trump’s Democratic critics say he has taken an unusual interest in the country mainly for that reason, and to impress Cuban and Venezuelan émigrés in the electorally crucial state of Florida.



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Trump Imposes New Sanctions on Venezuela


The test, Mr. Cutz said on Monday night, is whether the new sanctions prevent Russia and China from receiving Venezuelan oil as part of a debt repayment program. If so, he said, “that’s a pretty significant thing, and then the question is how Russia and China will respond, more than anything else.”

He said that Russia was close to being paid in full for its debt relief to Venezuela, but that China was on pace to be receiving oil from the South American country until early 2021. “They might stand to lose more,” said Mr. Cutz, who is now at the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington.

Venezuela’s imports per capita have already fallen to the lowest level since the 1950s. The country’s imports totaled just $303 million in April, down 92 percent from the same month in 2012, according to Torino Capital.

Venezuela’s economy was already forecast to decline 35 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. By the end of this year, the country’s gross domestic product will have shrunk by two-thirds since 2013, making it the largest economic collapse in a country outside of war since at least the 1970s.

The sanctions could also strain the lackluster political negotiations between Mr. Maduro and the country’s opposition, now based in Barbados and Norway, which many political analysts see as a final chance for a peaceful political transition in the country. Mr. Maduro’s negotiators have offered the opposition a prospect of presidential elections in return for the lifting of American sanctions — a possibility made more distant by the Trump administration’s action.

The order includes an exception for humanitarian goods such as food, clothing and medicine.

After Mr. Trump responded affirmatively to a reporter’s question last week about whether he was considering an embargo against Venezuela, an angry Mr. Maduro said on state television Friday that such a move would be “clearly illegal.” Mr. Maduro said he had asked Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations to protest the threat at the United Nations Security Council.

Trump officials have been frustrated by support for the Maduro government from Russia, China and Cuba, but have been able to do little to prevent it.

But Mr. Trump has happily embraced Venezuela’s socialist government as a political talking point, repeatedly citing its devastated economy as a cautionary tale of what he says Democrats would do if they were to win power in the United States. Mr. Trump’s Democratic critics say he has taken an unusual interest in the country mainly for that reason, and to impress Cuban and Venezuelan émigrés in the electorally crucial state of Florida.



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