Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido Wednesday announced the appointment of a new board for Citgo, the US-based arm of state oil firm PDVSA that until recently was a major source of revenue for President Nicolas Maduro’s embattled regime. Guaido—who has been recognized as acting president by more than 50 countries and also heads the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature, which appointed the new board — is locked in a battle with Maduro for control of the crisis-hit country.
The United States, which is leading the push to topple Maduro, has sanctioned key regime financial assets including the Citgo subsidiary, and on Wednesday President Donald Trump once more refused to rule out military action against the leftist leader.
Announcing the new six-member board on Twitter, Guaido said it “will be made up of qualified Venezuelans, who are free of corruption and without any partisan affiliation.” “With this decision, we are not only protecting our assets, we are avoiding the ongoing destruction and loss of the business,” said Guaido, who declared himself interim president after incumbent Maduro announced victory in polls the opposition said were rigged.
Venezuela at one point derived 96 per cent of its hard currency revenues from oil exports, and the US was the biggest cash customer, buying half a million barrels per day.
In announcing the latest raft of sanctions last month, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Citgo can continue to operate, but its earnings must be deposited into a blocked account in the United States, out of reach of Maduro’s regime.
As the National Assembly moved to replace Citgo’s leadership, Trump was hosting Colombia’s President Ivan Duque for talks on the crisis gripping its Latin American neighbour.
Declaring himself “sad” about the “turmoil” in the oil-rich nation, Trump demanded that Maduro unblock US aid shipments to the country, sitting on the Colombian side of the border.
“You’ll see,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked if thousands of US troops could deploy.
Duque, whose country has taken in large numbers of Venezuelan refugees, also lambasted Maduro, saying that “obstructing the access of humanitarian aid is a crime against humanity”.
The US aid has become the latest flashpoint in the international campaign to oust Maduro, whose socialist government is bolstered by the military and backed by Russia and China.
Much of Venezuela’s population is in desperate need, lacking even basics like food and medicine. But Maduro accuses the United States of using the blocked aid shipments as a pretext for an invasion.