They would add pressure on Maduro. He is dealing with crises all around: a crumbling economy, collapsing oil prices, and a public that is turning on him. Though he was handpicked by Chavez to be his successor, Maduro doesn’t have the charisma Chavez displayed in keeping people thinking that his well being is their well being. He has the same L’ état c’est moi attitude but is utterly unconvincing.
Some say Sanctions might boost Maduro’s support if he could use the US as a scapegoat and rallying cry. Russia could be pointed to as an analogue to say this, but this argument breaks down when examined. Venezuela is not Russia, and Maduro is not Putin. Russia has a history of enduring misery, and it’s people view prosperity as the exception rather than the norm. The Russian people have a perseverance that most do not. More importantly, Putin’s approval rating is over 70%, and even at its worst has never been below 53%. Maduro’s is sitting at 30%. And not only is the opposition gaining popularity, but there are cracks in the Chavismo that are widening and may lead to an internal challenger.
People tend to be swayed more by their pocketbooks than by politicians in the long term. In Venezuela 80% of food is imported and this poses a huge problem with a falling currency. Basic goods are also scarce. Maduro can blame the US if he wants, but it won’t keep him afloat forever.
Sanctions directed at officials involved in human rights violations are a good start, but these will do little to cause regime change. That they freeze any assets that may be held in the US is the strongest effect. But revoking visas causes little pain except to ruin vacations.
If regime change is the goal, energy sanctions are the way to go. Oil accounts for half the government’s revenue and 96% of the precious foreign currencies that could slow the fall of the Bolívar. The price of oil since June has been nearly cut in half to $60/bbl, a far cry from the $100/bbl that most exporting countries planned their budgets on, so the nation is already facing a crisis.
And what better time than when prices are low? Low oil prices make it easier for the US to palate energy sanctions. The US can purchase oil elsewhere for a negligible premium but Venezuela has a hard time selling its heavy crude to anyone but the US because there are few nations capable of refining it. Simply put, the US has other options, Venezuela doesn’t.