Venezuela opposition has few options to combat Nicolás Maduro's power grab

For now, the Trump administration has not delivered on threats to sanction Venezuela's oil industry, which could undermine Mr Maduro's government but raise USA gas prices.

On Monday, President Nicolás Maduro signaled that he would crack down on his opponents, declaring that some of them "would end up in jail".

While other countries have held back, the Trump administration has shown no hesitation in referring to Maduro as a "dictator", and on Monday the United States unveiled sanctions targeting Maduro, putting him in the same category as North Korea's Kim Jong-un, Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

Venezuela: New beginnings or more of the same?

But beyond the symbolism this is likely to have little impact - not least because of the diminished stature and moral authority of the White House under Donald Trump. Indeed, a year ago alone more than 150,000 Venezuelans, fed up with the hellish life of daily shortages, petty violence, and police-state abuses, left the country for the United States, Spain, and other Latin American nations.

Venezuela exported the third most oil to the far this year, behind Saudi Arabia and Canada, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The U.S. sends light crude oil to Venezuela, which has heavy crude. In 2016, Venezuela derived $10.5 billion from its crude exports to the US, or $28.7 million a day, according to Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at Exotix Partners, a United Kingdom -based investment bank. That's about the same as when Trump took office.

Globally, it would push up the price of oil.

Many nations across the hemisphere announced they would not accept the election of the assembly and European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Monday that an assembly "elected under doubtful and often violent circumstances can not be part of the solution".

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and John McCain of Arizona were urging Trump to hit Venezuela hard after Sunday's vote.

US sanctions could also embolden Maduro's base, igniting them to double down on their heavy-handed tactics against Venezuela's opposition protesters.

Venezuela's attorney general Luisa Ortega, who previously expressed opposition to Maduro's government, said she won't recognize the assembly, calling it an expression of "dictatorial ambition". Most Venezuelans believe that constitutional reform in the present circumstances poses an existential threat to the return of the rule of law. People are literally starving. The country already has suffered intermittent gasoline shortages this year, and a US cutoff would require the state-run firm to find providers in more distant markets such as Rotterdam. Seven police officers were wounded when a fiery explosion went off as they drove past piles of trash that had been used to blockade a street in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas.

The opposition has been staging street protests for the past four months demanding Maduro's resignation for presiding over the worst economic crisis in decades.

The US is now the chief importer of Venezuelan crude oil, so any restrictions would spell serious trouble for its economy. Oil experts predict that USA companies could adapt quickly and send their light crude elsewhere instead of Venezuela.

  • Rogelio Becker