Since the US government under the Trump administration doesn’t hesitate to act unilaterally, it seems likely that it could attempt to enforce a new blockade against Venezuela; in this case, impeding the access of foreign vehicles to its ports and aircraft. It used this tactic against Cuba last July.
Nevertheless, bearing in mind the different characteristics of the Cuban and Venezuelan economies, in our view, such a move would only serve the goal of providing propaganda for Trump’s re-election bid next year.
This is the case because nowadays, considering countries like Venezuela, financial sanctions are regarded as a more effective tool when it comes to exerting pressure on wayward foreign governments than the “old fashioned” blockading of ports by naval forces.
Regarding Venezuela specifically, the first U.S. sanctions targeting Caracas date back to 2005, when the George W. Bush administration prohibited all sales and retransfers of American arms to its government. Under his successor Barack Obama, new sanctions were launched with the intention of blocking assets and imposing visa restrictions against dozens of high-level officials and agencies. Later, the Trump administration adopted a wide range of measures, including monetary sanctions against the Venezuelan government and state-owned companies such as PdVSA (oil) and Minerven (gold), blocking their access to U.S. bank accounts and financial markets and therefore decisively limiting their ability to hold US currency.
This week, brand new “sweeping measures” against Venezuela were announced by the U.S. government, increasing its pressure over Nicolas Maduro’s government. These measures target not only the Venezuelan government’s assets but also countries, companies and even individuals doing any kind of business with Venezuela. Since both the country’s economy and its government revenues are deeply dependent on its oil exports as well as remittances from hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan citizens who are now living abroad, these new sanctions will very likely exert a significantly damaging effect on the country.
Reportedly, all these U.S. restrictions caused food and medicine shortages all over Venezuela, prompting a “humanitarian crisis” and a sizable wave of migration from the country. Nevertheless, so far they have not proved effective enough to oust Maduro’s government, which is still holding on, mostly due to Russian and Chinese deliveries of badly-needed staples. So just like the Cuban government resisted U.S. pressure for more than 5 decades, Venezuela seems to be able to hold at least as long as it can count on the assistance of its foreign partners. China and Russia have played an important role, giving political support (honouring the principles of sovereignty rather than engaging in external interference) and keeping economic investments in the country.
If the U.S. government really resorts to suc extreme measures, we believe that, at first, Russia and China would act diplomatically against it. For example, their delegations would certainly trigger debates over the issue inside the United Nations Security Council. Meanwhile, considering that the governments of both countries have a Security Council veto, it likely means that any potential U.S. blockade of Venezuela would need to be enforced despite Security Council resolutions, a politically costly step – even though it has happened several times, markedly during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Besides that, we don ́t believe that either China or Russia would take any military actions against the U.S. with the aim of supporting the Venezuelan government at all costs. Both Chinese and Russian officials know that the Caribbean basin (including Venezuela) – has long been regarded by the Americans as a foremost strategic asset, guaranteeing the prosperity and the safety of their country.
In fact, an interesting parallel could be made between the Caribbean and Eastern Europe. For example, although the U.S. provided financial and diplomatic support to both countries, the Americans did not resort to rendering open military support to Georgia and Ukraine during their disputes with Russia, recognising that these countries lie way too deep inside the perceived Russian zone of influence and security and that going that far might cross a “point of no return” – in the latter case triggering an all-out war between the two nuclear powers. Therefore, we believe that something similar will happen regarding Venezuela, if the situation escalates that far.
Finally, despite its current crisis, it is important to consider that Venezuela allegedly holds the world’s biggest proven oil reserves, and that this essential commodity makes it a major international actor, just like Iran. In our view, it seems likely that from the Trump administration’s perspective, destabilizing both Venezuela and Iran might be an attempt to hamper China’s access to their oil. In addition, we shall remember that since the 19th century, the U.S. has pursued what the Americans call “hemispheric dominance” over both American continents, a strategic objective that was once again very clearly stated by the U.S. Strategic Security documents presented by Barack Obama’s administration, and later reinforced by Trump. Finally, the U.S. stance on Venezuela may also be read as a reaction to the gradual decline of American influence in Asia, mostly a by-product of the Russian turn to the East and the Sino-Russian partnership in building the so-called “Greater Eurasia” project.