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Trump Administration Resumes Push To Get Venezuelan President Maduro Out Of Office


President Trump vowed months ago to use the full weight of U.S. economic and diplomatic powers to restore democracy in Venezuela. It has not worked. Now the administration is doubling down. It's issued broad sanctions that target anyone who does business with the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Trump has signed an executive order that's the toughest yet against the Maduro government, freezing all of its assets in the U.S., and it has implications for others, too, as national security adviser John Bolton explains.


JOHN BOLTON: If you support the Maduro regime through commercial transactions, through any kind of activity that provides it material support, you too are subject to sanctions.

KELEMEN: Ever since National Assembly President Juan Guaido declared himself interim president under the Venezuelan constitution in January, the U.S. has been trying to help him seize power from Maduro.


BOLTON: This is the most sweeping executive order that we've made in connection with Venezuela in the last six months. It's a very broad action with very broad implications.

KELEMEN: Bolton was speaking today in Peru at a conference focused on Venezuela. The idea of the new sanctions, he says, is to force companies to choose Maduro or the U.S.


BOLTON: Would you like a trickle of profits from a corrupt, illegitimate regime in Venezuela? Or would you like the prospect of doing business in the United States?

KELEMEN: Russia, which backs the Maduro government, called the move illegal and said it amounts to economic terrorism. Maduro's ambassador to the U.N., Samuel Moncada, described the Trump administration as a bully.

SAMUEL MONCADA: We have these rogue superpower imposing its will over the rest of the world and forcing the rest of the world to obey.

KELEMEN: He says he's still able to work, though he can't use bank accounts to pay for the mission's bills. He didn't elaborate. Maduro has been holding on for six months despite U.S. pressure. Cynthia Arnson of the Woodrow Wilson Center has her doubts that sanctions alone will lead to regime change in Venezuela.

CYNTHIA ARNSON: The Maduro government is not going to give up power easily. It's not going to give up power until there are cracks within the regime. Whether these sanctions can provoke those kinds of cracks is anyone's guess. Sometimes sanctions tend to unify people behind a government that is seen as being attacked or beset by hostile powers.

KELEMEN: An opposition attempt to turn Maduro's military against him fizzled in April. Arnson worries that this new round of sanctions could just lead to more economic hardship.

ARNSON: And the country will continue to export massive, massive numbers of refugees to neighboring countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

KELEMEN: The Treasury Department says despite the new sanctions, it will allow humanitarian aid to flow to Venezuela.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIGHTMARES ON WAX'S "MORSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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