A House Republican introduced legislation last week to bar the U.S. from importing petroleum products from Venezuela in a push to cripple the growing authoritarian regime in the South American country.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., introduced the Protecting Against Tyranny and Responsible Imports Act, or the PATRIA Act, that would target Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro after he stripped the country's democratically elected national assembly of its power and authority. According to the bill, the proposed ban on imports would last until the assembly's power is fully restored.
"The goal is to change the conduct, the character of the Venezuelan government under Maduro. I think the window is closing," Coffman told the Washington Examiner. "They are dependent upon the export of oil really to fund their government, and without that, they can't pay their security forces."
Venezuela is the third largest importer of crude oil to the U.S. behind only Canada and Saudi Arabia, meaning rising gas prices would be likely if a move of this kind took place.
The bill's introduction also comes amid various actions and statements by the Trump administration, including a fourth round of sanctions that restrict Venezuela and Petróleos de Venezuela SA, a state-owned oil company, from issuing new debt or from engaging in other financial dealings with U.S. citizens.
Trump also said on Aug. 12 that he was leaving open the option of military action in Venezuela, a move that was welcomed by some in the Venezuelan opposition and came amid heightened tensions with North Korea.
"This order demonstrates more clearly than ever that the United States will not allow an illegitimate dictatorship to take hold in the Western Hemisphere at the expense of its people," national security adviser H.R. McMaster said at the time.
Coffman, however, believes the threat was the wrong move, saying that it "feeds into the propaganda machine of Maduro." He added that the threat is not "credible" or supported by other nations in the region.
The Colorado Republican said passage of his bill is time sensitive given the actions taken by the Maduro regime and the suffering within the country, which he warns could become the next Cuban-style dictatorship. At least 120 protesters have died in recent months while the country has been affected by food shortages.
"As soon as we can do it, the better," Coffman said. "I think it is time sensitive and my hope is that under the threat of the ban that the Venezuelan government will respond accordingly. I do believe that either way, that they won't be able to sustain power if the United States is prohibited from buying their oil and other refined products."
Coffman said he has not discussed the bill with either the White House or congressional leadership yet, but plans to do so soon.
He estimates that a ban on importing oil from the South American nation would have a $10 billion impact in lost income on the Venezuelan government. Despite criticisms of the ban and how it could hurt affected Venezuelans, Coffman believes the ban would be much prefered to the continued growth of the Maduro regime.
All in all, Coffman is optimistic the PATRIA Act ("patria" is Spanish for "nation") could take hold and harm the regime, but he reiterates that time is of the essence.
"I hope that it does [pass]," Coffman said. "I hope we're not looking back three years from now or less when we have a Cuban-style dictatorship in Venezuela that is really at that point irreversible."