The Associated Press BUENOS AIRES (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday that the United States is still considering restricting the sale of oil from crisis-torn Venezuela.
Tillerson said in Argentina’s capital that the United States wants “free, fair, and verifiable elections” in Venezuela, and wants to apply enough pressure to end the crisis in the South American country.
The government there has faced widespread criticism over its decision to push up presidential elections under conditions that opponents say overwhelmingly favor President Nicolas Maduro.
But Tillerson also said that he wants to find ways to mitigate the negative effect sanctions would have on U.S. oil companies, Venezuelans and other regional countries that rely on Venezuelan oil.
“The situation is becoming quite dire in Venezuela, so one of the aspects of considering sanctioning oil is what effect would it have on the Venezuelan people, and is it a step that might bring this to an end, to a more rapid end,” Tillerson said. “Not doing anything to bring this to an end is also asking the Venezuelan people to suffer for a much longer time.”
Venezuela sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves and is the third-largest supplier to the United States. The U.S. oil industry says that a ban on petroleum imports from Venezuela would hurt U.S. jobs and drive up gasoline costs.
But such sanctions also pose a great threat to Maduro. For all of his anti-capitalist rhetoric, Venezuela remains highly dependent on U.S. oil exports, especially for importing food and medicine, which are in short supply as crude prices have plunged and spiraling inflation erodes its economy.
“This is under study, it’s under consideration,” Tillerson said about the potential sanctions.
“We’ve had exchanges in Mexico City, we’ve had exchanges today about it, and I think the point being that all of us in the region want to see Venezuela return to its Constitution,” said Tillerson, who is on a six-day trip to Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Mexico and Jamaica.