When President Trump slapped surprise oil sanctions on Venezuela aimed at toppling President Nicolás Maduro, exports plunged and banking froze as the effects hit harder and faster than expected.
But in recent days it has become clear that Venezuela’s state oil company, the main target of the sanctions as Mr. Maduro’s bankroller, has found a few ways to survive, with some Russian help.
Many in Venezuela fear that the sanctions imposed last week will push the already suffering nation of about 30 million people into an even greater humanitarian catastrophe.
“I’m not sure the U.S. has a Plan B if this doesn’t work in getting rid of Maduro,” said Francisco Rodríguez, a Venezuelan economist at Torino Capital, a brokerage firm. “I’m afraid that if these sanctions are implemented in their current form, we’re looking at starvation.” [bold mine-DL]
There is no way that starving the Venezuelan government of revenue wouldn’t have deleterious effects on the civilian population. This was all but guaranteed because the oil revenues targeted by these sanctions are essential to paying for the import of food and medicine. It is too generous to say that the administration didn’t have a Plan B. There is not much evidence that they actually had a Plan A beyond “recognize Guaido and hope everything turns out for the best.” The administration has resorted to heavy-handed, coercive tactics in an attempt to dictate the outcome of a foreign political crisis on the say-so of reckless hawkish politicians and advisers, and the people of Venezuela are the ones that will pay the price for their errors. Leave it to the sanctions addicts to make a terrible situation even worse.
The harmful consequences of slapping sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector were entirely foreseeable, and they were foreseen by many people who warned against doing this because it would exacerbate an already grave humanitarian crisis. I said  this when the sanctions were announced:
Instead of helping the people cope with the terrible humanitarian conditions, our government is stepping on their heads as they drown.
As usual, the people suffering most from the effects of these sanctions won’t be the regime officials and their cronies. They may experience some discomfort, but it will be workers and the most vulnerable members of the population that take it in the neck:
“If these sanctions don’t force the endgame soon, they will cause a lot of pain for the people,” said José Bodas, an anti-government oil union leader in Puerto La Cruz. “The rich will not stop getting richer, it’s the workers who will shoulder the cost of these measures.”
As it becomes more difficult to bring in food and medicine, that will inevitably drive up the price of whatever does come in and that will make even the available goods prohibitively expensive for most people. This is going to affect both the food supply and supplies of medicine:
But in pharmacies across the Venezuelan capital, desperate patients searching for scarce medicine said they fear new sanctions could push the already collapsing health care system over the edge.
“If this gets worse this week because of the measures to pressure the government, I’m going to go crazy,” said Juliana López, owner of a small pharmacy on the outskirts of the capital, as she turned away customer after customer. “We’re already just barely surviving. To get worse we would have to be hit by a meteorite.”