The United States says it is considering imposing Venezuelan oil sanctions in an effort to pressure President Nicolás Maduro to return the South American country to full constitutional order.  AFP/Getty Images photo by Luis Robayo.

Venezuelan oil sanctions meant to put pressure on Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro

On Wednesday, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US is moving closer to a decision on imposing sanctions on oil from Venezuela.

The US is considering restricting imports of Venezuelan crude and exports of refined US crude products to the oil-rich South American country as part of an effort to put pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Maduro has recently imposed restrictions on political opposition

Tillerson made the comment at the end of a tour of five Latin American countries where he and regional leaders discussed the possible action.  The former CEO of ExxonMobil said many Caribbean countries would be impacted by US sanctions as they have received subsidized fuel from Venezuela.

US Gulf Coast refiners would also be affected, according to Tillerson.

Last week, the US, Canada and Mexico met to study what could be done to cushion the impact of such a decision.  Tillerson said he has also briefed President Donald Trump about the development.

“He said ‘I know you haven’t been in favor of that in the past,’ and I said ‘well, I think things have changed.’ So we’re going to take it to him and let him make the decision,” Tillerson told Reuters while traveling to Jamaica, the final stop on his tour.

“We are going to put together a very small, very focused working group to see what we can do to mitigate a decision like that if we do take it. Obviously it will be the president who decides,” said Tillerson.

On Thursday, Mexican energy secretary Pedro Joaquin Coldwell said Mexico will not impose sanctions on Venezuelan oil.  Coldwell said he is concerned about the impacts on Venezuela’s citizens and Caribbean nations.

Coldwell added that Mexico will continue to work with the US and Canada to evaluate the impact of possible US sanctions on crude from Venezuela.

In the past, Venezuela has provided cheap loans for Caribbean countries to purchase oil.  The good will inspired by Maduro’s actions have helped the beleaguered leader retain support in the region.

“We had a very comprehensive discussion on ways to promote increased energy independence, not just for Jamaica but throughout the Caribbean,” Reuters reports Tillerson said at press conference alongside Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

“We stand ready to assist Jamaica and other partners in the Caribbean to explore and develop the resources they have, but also to share the abundance of resources that North America enjoys.”

Venezuelan oil sanctions put in place by the US would put severe pressure on Venezuela.  The country is already suffering through crushing shortages of food and medicine.

Tillerson says the US is hoping the sanctions will push President Maduro to return Venezuela to full constitutional order.

Last year, Venezuelan crude sales to the US were the lowest since 1991, according to Thomson Reuters trade flows data.