Mr. President, let’s not lose Venezuela

Mr. President, let’s not lose Venezuela

November 16, 2020

Among President Trump's wisest foreign policy strategies has been his tough sanctions against the brutal and illegal seizure of power by Venezuela's Maduro regime. Nicolas Maduro is one of the world's most corrupt and murderous world leaders.

Chaotic protest scenes have broken out in the nation's largest city, Caracas, the nation's economic infrastructure has collapsed, and its citizens are starving. This is the evil of socialism in full view. America's "liberals" cheered Hugo Chavez and have been quietly supportive of Maduro.

By contrast, ousting Maduro is one of Trump's highest unflinching foreign policy and human rights objectives, as well it should be.

America's goal here is to replace Maduro with a stable, free, and pro-America regime. Trump has so far wisely protected U.S.-owned assets in Venezuela because property rights are critical to economic recovery and because of worries our adversaries, including Russia and China, will seize the assets.

Venezuela's principal asset is its vast oil fields. It sits atop one of the largest oil fields with an estimated 20% of the world's reserves. Many of these fields are owned and operated by American energy companies. While tightening the screws on the Maduro regime is appropriate, forcing American companies to surrender these assets is a risky strategy that could only give the Russians and Chinese a foothold in South America. China would love to control the hundreds of billions of dollars of energy assets held by Petroleos de Venezuela. This outcome would be utterly contrary to America's economic and national security interests. We don't want to repeat the mistakes we made with Cuba in the 1960s when the Soviets seized effective control of the economy and assets.

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Recognizing these risks, roughly a year ago, the president and the Treasury Department issued rules allowing American companies to continue to hold their ownership claims on assets held in Venezuela and to maintain minimal operations. That was the right call then and continues to be so today. The administration should renew that rule before it expires on Dec. 1.

This helps secure American medium-term influence in the country. Also, it secures the ownership rights of American companies and the millions of American citizens who are shareholders in these firms, such as Chevron and AT&T. And it ensures that when Maduro is finally forced from office that the U.S. can play a lead role in rebuilding the economy in a free-market direction. If China seizes these assets, we will be wondering and regretting for years how we "lost Venezuela."

It is not an argument for easing the chokehold of sanctions against an authoritarian regime. However, it is an argument for enforcing those sanctions and is an effective way that prepares Venezuela for a new day when the oppressive legacies of Chavez and Maduro are finally erased.

Venezuela was developing into a thriving, middle-class nation before the socialists seized control. That can happen again, and it will depend in no small part on a resumption of American engagement.

The most significant and humane sanctions are a correct response to the human and democratic rights abuses of the Maduro regime, such as "those involved in actions or policies undermining democratic processes or institutions; serious human rights abuses; prohibiting, limiting, or penalizing freedom of expression or peaceful assembly; and public corruption." We should never tolerate those abuses, especially in this region of the world.

Americans and the Venezuelan people are increasingly frustrated that Maduro hangs on to power by a thread. That thread will almost surely tear in the years ahead, and now is a time to be thinking, as the Trump administration has, of the post-Maduro era of peace and economic cooperation between the U.S. and Venezuela.

Mr. President, maintaining U.S.-owned assets and operations will facilitate that constructive long-term engagement so we have a friend, not an adversary, in the region.

Stephen Moore is an economist at FreedomWorks. He is co-author of Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on American Energy. Published first in the Washington Examiner.

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