- - Thursday, September 5, 2019

If you ask most people which country in the world has the largest supply of oil, you’d likely get Iran, Iraq or Saudi Arabia as an answer. While those countries are logical answers, they’d be wrong. Venezuela presides over the world’s largest oil reserves, oil fields containing up to 500 billion barrels. At a reasonable estimate of $50 a barrel, Venezuelan oil represents a $25 trillion global energy resource.

Despite such valuable oil resources, far beyond any other another nation, Venezuela has fallen onto hard times. It’s now a country rife with political corruption, rampant crime. and is subjected to outside political pressures and influence from China, Russia and other countries. Venezuela’s socialist leader, Nicolas Maduro, has allowed this South American nation to fall into complete chaos, and control of Venezuela’s vast oil reserves is essentially up for grabs. 

Add to this mix the fact that Russia, China, Cuba and other nations all want access to — or outright control of — Venezuela’s oil, and you have a disturbing international issue that is only growing more problematic. Russia and China have also been sending billions into Venezuela to help the thuggish Maduro maintain control of his country and to gain access to the oil.

Russian warships have just recently been granted permission to dock in Venezuelan ports. Lawless Cuban gangs operate freely in the country, acting as enforcers for the brutal Maduro regime, and rampant narcotrafficking and corruption help prop it up.

President Trump has taken correct action by slapping Mr. Maduro and his corrupt government with very tough economic sanctions. The goal is to force Mr. Maduro out of power. But with China and Russia financing Maduro’s government and his military, moving the cruel dictator out of office hasn’t been easy.

The president is on the right track by working for Mr. Maduro’s ouster via tough sanctions. But the American energy alliance with Venezuela — which has lasted nearly 100 years — must also be preserved for the good of U.S. national security and for the hope and future of Venezuela. If the United States is forced to exit Venezuela, China and Russia are poised to move in and take control of the world’s largest oil reserves.

The president is correctly playing tough with China regarding international trade policies with the United States. It therefore makes little sense to walk away from Venezuela, forfeit billions invested in energy-producing equipment, and give China a huge economic windfall and strategic access to billions of barrels of oil. Doing so would undermine the president’s own efforts to establish fair trade with China. If the American energy industry exits Venezuela, China will immediately have more money and power to fight the president’s trade policies.

Forcing American interests completely out of Venezuela would also be seen as an international foreign-policy setback and an unwelcome embarrassment for the president. If the United States exits Venezuela, China and Russia will actively work to prop up and protect Mr. Maduro’s government, making it even more difficult for the administration to oust Mr. Maduro and help Venezuela recover.  

Much of Venezuela’s law-abiding middle class has been driven from the country. Violent drug cartels and paramilitary groups now control huge swaths of the nation. Hospitals lack much-needed medical supplies, the country has no reliable water or sewage service, and the nation’s currency is nearly worthless due to years of massive inflation and government mismanagement. What is happening in Venezuela is nearly identical to the formation of Fidel Castro’s Cuba decades ago.

Most international observers agree that Mr. Maduro’s brutal socialist regime must end. Pro-democratic forces have been working in Venezuela for some time with the goal of ousting Mr. Maduro. Once Mr. Maduro resigns, the United States must be in position from Day 1 to assist and work with a new government. Our long-established presence in-country would be of major benefit to the people of Venezuela as the United States is likely the only nation truly able to halt the widespread human-rights abuses occurring there and assist a new government in restoring order.

A realistic chance for Venezuela’s economic and social recovery looks bleak without the ongoing help of the United States’ energy industry and supporting companies. It’s an alliance worth preserving for the sake of a much troubled Venezuela and as a way of protecting America’s energy supply and our national security.  

• Sean Spicer has served as White House press secretary and chief strategist of the Republican National Committee, and is a senior adviser to America First Action.

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