Washington - The US has slapped sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil company that would potentially cost the country USD 11 billion in revenues, a move that seeks to force President Nicolas Maduro to give up power after the opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president.
The sanctions on January 28 prohibit most American businesses from engaging in transactions with the oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, SA, or PDVSA.
The Trump administration officials said the financial penalties are expected to block USD 7 billion in assets and result in USD 11 billion in export losses over the next year for Venezuela's government, starving it from its most important source of revenue and foreign currency.
Last week, the Trump administration recognised Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of the National Assembly, as his supporters took to the streets to demand new elections. Maduro has cut ties to the United States and has demanded that all American diplomats leave the country.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton at a joint news conference with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Maduro and his allies could "no longer loot the assets of the Venezuelan people".
He called on the Venezuelan military and security forces to accept the peaceful democratic and constitutional transfer of power.
Mnuchin said the US is holding accountable those responsible for Venezuela's tragic decline.
"We will continue to use all of our diplomatic and economic tools to support interim President Guaido, the national assembly, and the Venezuelan people's efforts to restore their democracy," he said.
Observing that PDVSA has long been a vehicle for embezzlement, for corruption for Venezuelan officials and businessmen, he said the designation of PDVSA will help prevent further diversion of Venezuela's assets by Maduro and will preserve these assets for the people of Venezuela where they belong.
"The path to sanctions relief for PDVSA is through the expeditious transfer of control to the interim president or a subsequent democratically elected government who is committed to taking concrete and meaningful actions to combat corruption," he said.
Venezuela has the largest amount of proven oil reserves in the world, and oil revenues account for about 98 per cent of the country's export earnings, according to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
It is heavily reliant on the US for its oil revenue - sending 41 per cent of its oil exports there - while it remains in the top four crude oil suppliers to the US.
Maduro later announced he had told PDVSA to launch "political and legal action, in US and international courts" to protect its US subsidiary Citgo.
Meanwhile, Bolton's note on "5,000 troops to Colombia" as reflected in his notepad during the White House press conference raised question if the Trump administration is considering dispatching troops to the South American country.
Later a White House spokesperson said that all options are on the table.
Responding to questions, Bolton said, "The president has made it very clear on this--on this matter that all options are on the table."
Asserting that stability and democracy in Venezuela are in the national interest of the US right, Bolton said under the Chavez-Maduro governments, civil society in Venezuela is disintegrating and the economy is in a state of collapse.
In a separate statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged that Maduro and his cronies have used state-owned PDVSA to control, manipulate, and steal from the Venezuelan people for too long, destroying it in the process.
"Today's action will prevent Maduro and other corrupt actors from further enriching themselves at the expense of the long-suffering Venezuelan people. It will also preserve the core pillar of Venezuela's national assets for the people and a democratically elected government,” he said.
Pompeo said these new sanctions do not target the innocent people of Venezuela and will not prohibit humanitarian assistance including the provision of medicine and medical devices, which are desperately needed after years of economic destruction under Maduro's rule.
"The United States will continue to take concrete and forceful action against those who oppose the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela, and serve their own interests rather than those of the Venezuelan people," Pompeo said.