US Responds to Failed Mercenary Incursion with an Escalation of the Economic Blockade Against Venezuela

Misión Verdad
Two FBI agents. Photo: Iberoeconomia

As Reuters recently reported, “the FBI is investigating several Mexican and European companies allegedly involved in the Venezuelan oil trade while gathering information for a U.S. Treasury Department investigation into possible sanctions.

In its report, Reuters anonymously quotes four people familiar with these “investigations” and also sources close to the White House.

U.S. officials consulted by the agency confirmed “that the little impact that the measures (sanctions) have had on the Venezuelan president (Nicolas Maduro) is a source of frustration for President Donald Trump, whose administration has intensified the implementation of sanctions in recent months.

As this tribune demonstrated a few weeks ago in an investigative article, illegal pressures to break commercial ties between European oil companies and the state oil company PDVSA have precipitated a gasoline shortage in Venezuela.

Lines of vehicles at a PDVSA fuel station in Caracas. Photo: Archives

In addition to these extortionate measures, dozens of oil tankers with which the Caribbean country exports its oil and imports the necessary additives for refining gasoline are being blockaded.

Although these measures stand out for their aggressiveness and harmful effects, Washington seems determined to further escalate criminal sanctions to restrict the Venezuelan oil trade, thus frustrating the country’s main source of income (more than 90% of its foreign currency comes from the sale of oil).

This move comes days after the failed mercenary incursion off the Venezuelan coast under the so-called “Operation Gideon”. The plan to assassinate Maduro failed and exposed the White House’s involvement.

These new announced actions of economic pressure can be interpreted as a way forward, in the context of an effort to harden the economic path of destabilization: the indispensable fuel of regime change and new coup attempts based on the economic collapse that Washington is trying to precipitate.

At the end of April, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House envoy Elliot Abrams announced sanctions against European companies that maintained commercial ties with the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. Photo: Archives

Reuters says the FBI is gathering information on Mexican companies Libre Abordo, Schlager Business Group and Grupo Jomadi Logistics & Cargo, and European companies Elemento Ltd and Swissoil Trading SA, for marketing oil and other products associated with Venezuela.

The measure is aimed at strengthening the blockade on the import of gasoline and basic imports in order to hinder the economic recovery of Venezuela once the Covid-19 pandemic is fully controlled.

Washington is invoking the illegal authority of Executive Order 13844 of August 5, 2019, which “authorizes” the application of “secondary sanctions” against companies outside U.S. jurisdiction that have commercial relations with Venezuelan institutions and companies included on the OFAC list of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

In addition, Reuters cites a document sent by the company Libre Abordo and its affiliate Schlager.

According to the agency “the two agreements they signed in 2019 with the state-owned Venezuelan Foreign Trade Corporation (Corpovex) to exchange food and water tankers for Venezuelan crude, known as oil-for-food agreements, were allowed under the sanctions as long as there were no cash payments to the Maduro government.

Drinking water tanks delivered by the Mexican company Libre Abordo in exchange for Venezuelan oil. Their representatives claim that these operations are not subject to sanctions. Photo: El Financiero

“Neither Libre Abordo nor the shipping companies contracted to carry out PDVSA’s hydrocarbon movements are subject to any sanction, primary or secondary, by the United States government,” states a statement quoted by Reuters.

Now the US Treasury Department could target Corpovex and the companies mentioned to strengthen the blockade.

On repeated occasions, Washington has insisted that the illegal sanctions against the Venezuelan state do not include food and medicine imports. However, this narrative is in question, as the pressures to block gasoline imports and oil exports have a direct effect on the state’s ability to access food and medicine to meet the country’s needs.

In mid-April, the US Treasury Department issued a general licence to project the narrative that sanctions do not block the shipment of humanitarian materials. But the addition of the FBI to the ongoing economic and financial persecution of the country makes it clear that this is a fallacy.

Reuters states “the Free Trade and Schlager oil-for-food agreements with Venezuela commit them to delivering 1,000 water tankers and 210,000 tons of corn to the country (…) While the trucks were partially delivered, the companies said they had not so far supplied any food, as low oil prices had affected the original delivery schedule.

Contrary to the humanitarian rhetoric of the sanctions, the FBI is now gathering the necessary information to make new sanctions viable to halt these agreements to exchange oil for food and other humanitarian supplies, which have been operating during the months of March and April according to reports in the Mexican media.

The presence of the FBI in the plot of the blockade of Venezuela confirms the police persecution suffered by the Caribbean country in its efforts to transport food and other supplies outside the U.S. blockade.

At the same time, the U.S. agency’s investigation exposes the false rhetoric that the sanctions do not hinder the import of basic goods.

More than 30 Venezuelan oil tankers have been sanctioned by the United States, a manoeuvre that has significantly affected the commercialisation of crude oil, the import of gasoline and national income to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Voice Of America

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the self-proclaimed Juan Guaidó, in their last phone call in late April, “both strongly condemned Maduro’s blockade of international medical and food aid,” even though the only evidence of a direct and proven blockade was from Washington.

While Venezuela is suffering from an aggressive fall in oil prices and the Covid-19 pandemic, Washington is betting on an escalation of the blockade to strengthen the change of regime, preventing the Venezuelan state from effectively attending to the international humanitarian emergency.

These new manoeuvres are part of a strategy that would also include the collaboration of the Islamic Republic of Iran to reactivate Venezuela’s refineries.

Reuters also states that Washington has announced retaliation and a new battery of sanctions for these agreements that support the economic stability of the country.