Bolton Departure: Why Trump’s approach to Venezuela is bigger than Florida electoral politics

by | Sep 11, 2019

In the last three months, some national and Florida media outlets have shifted away from the ongoing narrative about Russia and “possible collusion,” to a new line of attack on President Donald Trump, accusing him of pandering to Florida-based Venezuelan voters, disingenuously attempting to connect the 2020 election cycle with Trump’s strategy to oust that troubled nation’s disputed president, Nicolás Maduro.

Mainstream media outlets, including The Hill and Politico, have been joined by unabashed liberal media sites like Talking Points Memo, each publishing stories claiming Trump adopted his Venezuelan strategy in order to win over the tens of thousands of Florida-based Venezuelan voters ahead of the 2020 Presidential Election.

The media is either hopelessly partisan or ignorant of reality, because the stakes in Venezuela are significantly higher than Florida’s 29 electoral votes. The outcome in Venezuela carries substantial national security implications and could tip the world’s balance of power.

That, in turn, is why National Security Adviser John Bolton‘s ouster and subsequent replacement could have major ramifications in Venezuela, where a socialist dictator, Maduro, has bankrupted his nation. His citizens are starving, and vultures like Russia and China are licking their chops over the Venezuela’s most valuable national asset: vast oil and energy resources, along with the accompanying infrastructure. Much of that infrastructure was built and financed by American companies, which have operated there for the past 99 years. Experts place Venezuela’s proven petroleum reserves somewhere between 300 billion and 500 billion barrels. That’s more than any other nation on earth, including Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Now, those oil reserves are the only thing keeping Maduro in power. Russia and China are more than willing to prop him up, so long as it gives them a seat at the table from which they can divvy up Venezuela’s energy pie at America’s expense.

But the Trump administration is not naive. Trump knows that any revenue flowing into Venezuela only serves to keep Maduro in power even longer, whether the cash is coming from American companies, Russian oil oligarchs, or Chinese communists.

That is why, earlier this year, he ordered an embargo on Venezuelan commerce, carefully designed to push Maduro out of power, while keeping Russian and Chinese hands off U.S energy infrastructure in Venezuela. To that end, his administration wisely issued a temporary waiver allowing U.S. energy companies to continue operations in Venezuela while pressure continued to mount from reduced revenue streams in other sectors of the economy.

This is the right strategy, given the limited options available to the president. But some in the Trump administration have urged the him to move all American businesses, including U.S. oil companies, out of Venezuela in a foolhardy strategy they think would force Maduro out more quickly.

It won’t work, precisely because the Russians and the Chinese will pony up the cash to keep him in power as long as they think they can gain access to our energy assets there.

Without being privy to internal White House discussions, it’s tough to know whether Bolton’s views on Venezuelan policy contributed to his sudden departure from the White House. Regardless, that chapter in the Trump Administration is now closed. What matters going forward is that Trump stays the course on Venezuela, ignores the foolishly partisan, election year media attacks, and continues to strike the delicate balance required between hard pressure on Maduro and stiff-arming Russian and Chinese efforts to steal American energy assets right from under our nose.

The current waiver allowing U.S. companies to continue operations in Venezuela is set to expire in less than two months. At that time the Trump administration will have to revisit the issue again. Regardless of who President Trump names as his new national security adviser, Trump should make clear that he has no intention of forcing U.S.-based oil services companies to pull out of Venezuela. The message to Russia and China would be clear: propping up Maduro isn’t going to result in gaining U.S. energy assets there.

But more importantly, the ongoing U.S. energy presence and cash flow will prove critical to help rebuild Venezuela’s broken economy when Maduro and his cronies finally relinquish power.


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