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Pence tells Lima Group to freeze PDVSA assets



By Argus

Petroleumworld 02 26 2019

The US is calling on Lima Group countries to immediately freeze the assets of Venezuela's national oil company PDVSA (PdV) and transfer ownership of Venezuelan assets to an interim government.

Speaking at a meeting of the Lima Group today in Bogotá, Colombia, vice president Mike Pence called on the member countries to revoke the visas of Nicolas Maduro and his inner circle.

The US and more than 50 other countries no longer recognize Maduro as president, and instead recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president.

"The US calls on all the nations gathered here to intensify efforts to deny the Maduro regime access to financing," Pence said. He urged Lima Group members to freeze PdV assets and to transfer other Venezuelan holdings in their countries from Maduro's "henchmen" to acting president Guaido.

Pence said a military intervention remains an option but added that "we hope for better. We hope for a peaceful transition."

The Lima Group is comprised of Latin America's largest countries and Canada. The 14-member group was founded in 2017 to coordinate actions leading to a peaceful political transition in Venezuela.

The US is not a member of the Lima Group, but Pence was invited to participate in today's meeting, which is taking place amid simmering tensions on Venezuela's lengthy border with Colombia. On 23 February, a US-backed opposition campaign to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela was violently repressed by Venezuelan national guards and armed gangs loyal to Maduro, who refuses to step down.

PdV has no significant assets in the Lima Group countries, so the US' call to freeze the company's assets is largely symbolic.

PdV's main regional asset is its US refining subsidiary Citgo, which is already banned by US sanctions from transferring dividends to its parent company. The emerging Guaidó administration recently appointed a new board of directors at Citgo to prevent the subsidiary from falling into the hands of Venezuela's many creditors.

PdV's main assets lie in the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, where the company's logistical network is used to store crude and transship cargoes for close ally Cuba and longer-haul Asian markets.

The Netherlands is among the EU countries that recognize Guaidó, and it controls the islands' foreign policy. But the island assets remain in the hands in PdV and, in the case of Aruba, in the control of Citgo under a long-term lease. The islands are not part of the Lima Group.

Curacao is among three staging areas for the humanitarian campaign that is now on hold. Venezuela closed its air and sea borders with the islands last week to impede the aid effort.

Colombian president Ivan Duque today urged the international community to step up pressure on Venezuela. But Colombia and the other Lima Group countries have ruled out military intervention.

Guaidó, who slipped out of Venezuela into Colombia on 22 February for a big aid concert in the border city of Cúcuta, told the Lima Group today that "many actions" are planned. But he gave no indication of the details.

Elements of Venezuela's opposition inside and outside the country are encouraging the formation of a US-led military coalition, but today's meeting confirmed that there is little appetite in the region to take up arms against Maduro.

The Treasury Department today unveiled new sanctions, timed to coincide with Pence's speech in Bogota, that target four Venezuelan state governors allied with Maduro.

Pence announced an additional $56mn of humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans but intended for those who already have fled the country.



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