The US imposed sanctions on one of Venezuela’s last viable industries: gold

Maduro handles a gold bar.
Maduro handles a gold bar.
Image: Reuters/Marco Bello
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Even as Venezuela has descended further into economic crisis, its gold sector has remained surprisingly robust—until now. In the first nine months of this year, the country exported some 23.6 tons of the precious metal to Turkey, worth $900 million, to generate the hard currency it desperately needs. But new sanctions introduced by Donald Trump seek to stymie the industry—and turn up the pressure on president Nicolas Maduro’s authoritarian regime.

Trump today (Nov. 1) signed an executive order authorizing new sanctions on the country’s gold sector, ostensibly targeting corruption. US persons are prohibited from engaging with what National Security Advisor John Bolton described as (paywall) “actors and networks complicit in corrupt or deceptive transactions in the Venezuelan gold.” Many of the country’s mines have close ties to criminal gangs, who operate with little to no concern for the environment.

Speaking in Miami, Bolton sold the move as part of US efforts to promote democracy in the region, which also include plans to extend sanctions in Cuba and Nicaragua. “This triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere,” Bolton said. “Under president Trump, the United States is taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty, and basic human decency in our region.”

Though the sanctions will initially be specific to Venezuela’s gold sector, the order leaves room for the US State and Treasury departments to take aim at additional industries in the future. It’s expected, however, the sanctions will make a significant impact on the country’s economy, particularly its trade with Turkey. Officials also believe that the country may be supplying Iran with gold, in defiance of sanctions in place on the Islamic Republic.

How the new sanctions will affect those already suffering in Venezuela remains to be seen. The past four years have seen the country’s economy collapse along with revenue from oil production. Now, children are starving to death (paywall) and riots and protests continue over a lack of food and basic provisions and the effects of hyperinflation. But such demonstrations are often met with violent opposition from state forces, while the government remains in place. Many of Maduro’s political opponents, meanwhile, have either fled or been arrested.