President Donald Trump commented briefly on Thursday about the turmoil enveloping Venezuela.
During a meeting at the White House with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Trump was asked about the decision by the government of President Nicolas Maduro to withdraw Venezuela from the Organisation of American States in response to the bloc’s pressure the South American country.
“Venezuela is a mess. Venezuela is a mess,” he said, according to a pool report. “We will see what happens,” he added, according to news agency EFE.
The Trump administration has given limited attention to Venezuela during his first three months in office.
Trump’s Treasury department did impose new sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, designating him a drug trafficker and accusing him of “a significant role in international narcotics trafficking.”
However, the depth of accusations leveled against El Aissami suggested it was not solely the Trump’s administration doing.
“This clearly had its genesis a long while ago in the Obama administration,” Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, told Foreign Policy at the time. (In the days before leaving office, Obama extended limited economic sanctions he had imposed on Venezuela.)
“Those sanctions were going to be imposed when Obama was in power, but State Department told them to hold back because they wanted to see if they could establish a dialogue” between Maduro’s government and the political opposition, Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations at the US Drug Enforcement Administration, told Business Insider at the time, echoing a point a former Obama administration official made to Fox News.
Trump’s deployment of sanctions in mid-February could be considered “the opening salvo of the Trump administration in dealing with Latin America’s deepest crisis,” Michael Shifter, president of the Washington, DC-based policy group Inter-American Dialogue, told The New York Times.
Just a few days after they were issued, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met in the Oval Office with Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, one of the many political prisoners the Venezuelan opposition has called on Maduro to release.
Throughout April, Venezuela has been riven by chaotic protests triggered by the country’s supreme court’s attempt to strip the legislature of much of its power. Citizens angered by chronic shortages, rampant violence, and a withering economy have clashed with security forces and government supports in the streets around the country.
Thus far, nearly 30 people have been killed, pro- and anti-government alike. The extent of the violence has stirred memories of the a wave of protests that washed over the country in spring 2014, leaving more than 40 people dead.
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