Venezuela’s Interim President Juan Guaidó took steps this week to regain control of the U.S.-based Venezuelan oil refiner Citgo, replacing Maduro-era leaders with his preferred officials.
The company, based in Houston and majority-owned by the Venezuelan state-oil company Petroleum of Venezuela (PDSVA), presents a vital source of revenue to the Maduro regime.
“We have taken a step forward in the reconstruction of PDVSA,” he said. “We announce the appointment of the new CITGO leadership. With this decision we are not only protecting our assets, we also prevent the ongoing destruction that will ultimately mean losing the company.”
“The new directive will be run by capable Venezuelans, free of corruption and without partisan affiliation. Also, we will have the first woman in charge of our oil industry. We are advancing in the rescue of Venezuela!”
Hemos dado un paso adelante en la reconstrucción de PDVSA.
Anunciamos la designación de la nueva Directiva de CITGO. Con esta decisión no solo estamos protegiendo nuestros activos, también evitamos que continúe la destrucción y que perdamos la empresa. #CITGOParaLosVenezolanos pic.twitter.com/qXYv0mFv4A
— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) February 13, 2019
Venezuela’s regime-controlled Supreme Court responded to the move by declaring it void, and barring those involved from entering the country. Attorney General Tarek William Saab also ordered an investigation into these individuals.
“The constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court notes that the analyzed directive, issued by the National Assembly, is absolutely null and void and has no legal effect,” Judge Juan Jose Mendoza Jover said at a court session aired by the state-sponsored propaganda network Telesur on Thursday.
President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has led U.S. efforts in recent weeks to weaken and ultimately remove the Maduro regime from power, publicly expressed his support for the move.
“The United States is glad to see Interim President Juan Guaido take steps to protect Citgo assets for the people of Venezuela,” he wrote on Twitter. “Maduro and his corrupt cronies are being prevented from pilfering Venezuela’s resources.
The United States is glad to see Interim President Juan Guaido take steps to protect Citgo assets for the people of Venezuela. Maduro and his corrupt cronies are being prevented from pilfering Venezuela’s resources. https://t.co/iv604a2tCg
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) February 14, 2019
As noted by the Houston Chronicle, the main question is now “whether executives at the company will follow the direction of Guaido’s board or the one loyal to Maduro,” although analysts believe they will ultimately side with Guaidó.
“Maduro can no longer call the shots,” Russ Dallen, managing partner of Caracas Capital Markets told the outlet. “Now, you can support the Venezuelan resistance by buying your gas at Citgo.”
Under the Trump administration’s recent sanctions against the regime last month, the Treasury Department froze Citgo’s bank accounts. The sanctions still allow the company to operate; however, all earnings must be deposited into a frozen account that the Maduro regime is unable to access or draw money from.
As well as freezing Citgo’s accounts, the latest round of sanctions also prohibits the purchase of Venezuelan oil by all American companies, a move which has already led to a dramatic slump in oil exports, thus squeezing the regime’s finances even further.