From the first paragraph of “Venezuela Libre,” the ninth chapter of John Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened,” it is obvious that the tale Bolton spins is full of fabrications, half-truths, propaganda and the occasional kernel of truth.
The chapter is a 35-page screed in which the infamous warmonger places blame for the Trump administration’s disastrous Venezuela policy on everyone from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, to State Department bureaucrats and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and, of course, President Donald Trump.
The criticism also extends to opposition figure Juan Guaidó and Colombian President Ivan Duque. Exempt from criticism are the policy’s two architects: Mauricio Claver-Carone (handpicked by Bolton as the National Security Council’s senior director for the western hemisphere) and Bolton himself.
Per Bolton, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro remains in power only because the Trump administration lacked the determination to keep the pressure on. He argues that sanctions were neither strict nor swiftly applied.
Yet during Bolton’s tenure, the Trump administration blocked Venezuela’s ability to trade gold, froze the assets of state oil company PDVSA (including U.S. based subsidiary Citgo Petroleum), sanctioned Venezuela’s Central Bank, and imposed an economic embargo. All of this occurred between November 2018 and August 2019, during Bolton’s tenure as Trump’s national security adviser.
Four major sanctions over 10 months that crippled the Venezuelan economy are hardly indicative of an administration that “vacillated and wobbled”, in Bolton’s words.
There was nothing slow about the implementation of these sanctions; they were applied in reaction to events on the ground and designed to cause as much economic damage as possible.
The gold industry sanction came as Venezuela was exporting it to Turkey. The PDVSA sanctions were intended as a death knell for Venezuela’s oil industry, preventing Citgo from refining its oil and sending diluents to process Venezuela’s heavy crude (it was also meant to hand over Citgo and its assets to Juan Guaidó). The Central Bank sanction froze Venezuelan assets abroad, essentially freezing it out of the international financial system and impeding the country’s ability to import goods, including food and medicine.