White House

Trump declares ‘we can go a lot tougher’ on Venezuela

Trump says US could put tougher sanctions on Venezuela

President Trump said that the US could potentially put tougher sanctions on Venezuela during a press conference with President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.
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President Trump said that the US could potentially put tougher sanctions on Venezuela during a press conference with President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.

President Donald Trump says the United States has yet to take its toughest measures on Venezuela after meeting with the Brazilian president who pledged to work with the United States to oust the Venezuelan “dictator.”

On the same day the Treasury Department announced new sanctions against a Venezuelan gold company for supporting Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, Trump on Tuesday warned that the United States had more options to pressure Maduro’s government.

“We really haven’t done the really tough sanctions yet,” Trump said. “We can do the tough sanctions. And all options are open, so we may be doing that. But we haven’t done the toughest of sanctions, as you know. We’ve done, I would say, right down the middle. But we can go a lot tougher if we need to do that.”

During a Rose Garden press conference, Trump praised the leadership of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been described as the “Trump of the Tropics” for his campaign style and far-right policies, for his partnership working to bring democracy back to Venezuela.

Trump’s comments about tougher sanctions on Venezuela contradict the assessment of others familiar with U.S. strategy in Venezuela, who worry the United States has exhausted its strongest weapons after imposing crippling oil sanctions against the state run oil company.

The White House has been following an “escalatory road map” that aides drew up for Trump in 2017 of available economic and individual sanctions. Many steps have largely been taken. They include tagging Maduro as a dictator, sanctions on individuals, and financial sector sanctions.

The U.S. administration’s hope was that sanctions against Venezuela’s state run oil company, PDVSA, imposed in January, would be the final step needed to drive Maduro from office and allow the United States and international allies to help internationally-recognized president Juan Guaidó take control and rebuild the once oil-rich nation and restore democratic institutions.

But Maduro has been able to maintain power by keeping control of the military leading to questions about whether the next step the United States would take is military action.

Anticipation over the use of military force to get the hundreds of tons of U.S.-provided food and medicine stuck on the border into Venezuela reached a fever pitch last month when Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Colombia to meet with regional allies in the 14-nation Lima group. Before meeting with Pence, Guaidó tweeted that he would formally request to the international community to consider “all options” in order to liberate Venezuela and get the aid to his people.

But Pence told Guaidó’ the Trump administration remained focused on a peaceful solution.

Nonetheless, on Tuesday, Trump kept up the strong rhetoric. When asked about military intervention in Venezuela, he responded: “all options are open. I think of all possibilities. All options are open. We’ll see what happens.”

Trump also announced his intention to designate Brazil as a “major non-NATO ally” and perhaps try to get Brazil full NATO membership, as well as plans that would allow U.S. companies to conduct space launches from Brazil.

Bolsonaro also appeared to leave the door open to stronger measures when asked about the use of military force.

“There are a few issues that, if you speak, they are no longer strategic,” Bolsonaro said. “Therefore, these reserved issues, which may be discussed if they have not yet, will not become public, evidently.”

Brazil, which shares a border with Venezuela, has also absorbed hundreds of thousands of displaced Venezuelans who have fled across the border.

At least two people were killed last month in a confrontation between a group of civilians and Venezuelan forces on the border with Brazil.

Brazilian soldiers have been called on to deliver humanitarian aid in northern Brazil.

When asked about whether Brazil would allow U.S. troops to be stationed on the border, Bolsonaro appeared to deflect the question but said his country stands ready to help in any way that it can.

“At this point in time, this is where we stand. So for as much as it is possible for us to do together to sort out the issue of the Venezuelan dictatorship, Brazil will be more than willing and ready to fulfill this mission and take freedom and democracy to that country, which up until recently was one of the wealthiest countries in South America.”

During a press conference with President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Trump said that he intends to designate Brazil as a non-Nato ally of the United States and "maybe a NATO ally."

Franco Ordoñez is a White House correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau with a focus on immigration and foreign affairs. He previously covered Latin American affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. He moved to Washington in 2011 after six years at the Charlotte Observer covering immigration and working on investigative projects for The Charlotte Observer.