Feb. 8 (UPI) -- The U.S. government is weighing the potential negative impacts of placing sanctions on Venezuelan oil or oil-related products, the secretary of state said.
On a tour of Latin America, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has expressed mounting concerns about the political affairs in Venezuela, a top oil producer. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, widely criticized from Washington for his stance on democracy, is up for re-election this year and Tillerson said early this week that "obviously" sanctioning oil or prohibiting the sale of Venezuelan oil in the United States was something to consider.
Targeting Venezuelan oil carries risk for the United States. For the week ending Jan. 28, it was the seventh-largest exporter of oil to the United States, behind Nigeria. In 2016, it was the third-largest exporter, though the four-week moving average from late January is down 50 percent from last year.
U.S. President Donald Trump last year considered tightening sanctions on Venezuela, where energy represents about 95 percent of its export economy. That move would've created problems for the United States because, for the refiners concentrated on the U.S. Gulf Coast, Venezuela is one of the largest sources of crude oil.
Speaking alongside his Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the U.S. secretary said sanctioning oil warrants deep consideration.
"We are going to take into full consideration the impacts on regional countries as well," he said. "And we will be looking at what are actions the U.S. might take to mitigate the negative impacts of that."
The Trump administration in December slapped sanctions on Venezuelan government and military officials in response to allegations of corruption and repression under Maduro's tenure.
Secondary sources reporting to economists at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said member state Venezuela produced on average 1.7 million barrels of oil per day in December, down from the 2016 average of around 2.1 million barrels of oil. January production from Venezuela declined another 60,000 barrels per day to reach a low not seen since labor strikes hit the nation's oil sector in the early 2000s.
Venezuela's real gross domestic product, meanwhile, is projected to fall by about 15 percent for a cumulative GDP decline of almost 50 percent since 2013.
Holness added there was regional support for reaching out to the opposition in Venezuela in order to reverse the political and economic crisis.
"Secretary Tillerson reiterated the concern of the U.S. government on the political and economic crisis in Venezuela and the impact on the most vulnerable," he said. "At the conclusion of our meeting, we agreed that the Government of Venezuela must act in the best interest of its people and that it should ensure that the presidential elections are free, fair, and credible in the eyes of the Venezuelan people and the international community."