Trump Signs Executive Orders Targeting Venezuela Gold Exports

In the latest move to pressure Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro, Donald Trump signed an executive order enabling new sanctions on Venezuela’s gold sector, in a bid to disrupt trade with Turkey which U.S. officials believe is undermining efforts to cripple Venezuela's economy and force Maduro and members of his government out of office.

"I hereby report that I have issued an Executive Order with respect to Venezuela that takes additional steps with respect to the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13692 of March 8, 2015," Trump wrote in his letter to the leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate.

According to Bloomberg, the order which was signed by Trump on Wednesday and will be announced at a speech Thursday by National Security Adviser John Bolton, targets those "operating corruptly within the gold sector" and will have a "fairly significant" effect on the country’s economy.

"The new sanctions will target networks operating within corrupt Venezuelan economic sectors and deny them access to stolen wealth," Bolton will say, according to an advanced copy of his speech seen by Bloomberg. "Most immediately, the new sanctions will prevent U.S. persons from engaging with actors and networks complicit in corrupt or deceptive transactions in the Venezuelan gold."

While it was not initially clear what form the sanctions will take, the Treasury Department is will announce details of how the latest sanctions will be implemented later on Thursday. And while the initial effort will focus on Venezuela’s gold sector, whose exports Venezuela allegedly uses to circumvent financial sanctions, Trump’s order gives the State and Treasury departments authority to target additional industries in the future.

Bolton, speaking at Freedom Tower, the symbolic building where the federal government received many refugees fleeing Fidel Castro’s Cuba, framed the plans as part of a broader effort by the U.S. to promote democracy in the Americas.

Venezuela's gold reserves have declined sharply in the past four years, and according to the IMF were just above 5MM troy oz most recently, down from a recent peak just below 12 million. Much of this decline is due to what some have speculated has been payment for imports in gold, and is what the US is hoping to curb going forward.

The sanctions are likely to have a particular effect on trade with Turkey, with tons of gold sent there annually for refinement and processing. Officials have also voiced concern that some of the gold may be making its way to Iran in violation of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Venezuela’s gold industry has been under scrutiny by U.S. officials in recent weeks, with the Treasury Department noting that many mines are run by criminal gangs.

Separately, Bolton will also suggest that the U.S. is preparing sanctions against the government of Nicaragua after the violent political crisis sparked earlier this year by President Daniel Ortega’s announced changes to the country’s social security program. The U.S. wants free and fair elections in the country, the Trump administration official said.

"This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere," Bolton will say. "Under President Trump, the United States is taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty, and basic human decency in our region."

As Bloomberg adds, Bolton’s Thursday speech in Miami is not expected to announce any changes in the U.S. posture toward Central American countries that have recently drawn the ire of Trump after the formation of a pair of migrant caravans joined by thousands of individuals who say they are traveling to seek refugee status in the U.S.

While Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut aid to the caravan’s origin countries - Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador - the official said the U.S. has had a productive dialogue with those governments since the formation of the migrant groups.