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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Photo: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration has announced sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil company, PDVSA, in an attempt to undercut Nicolás Maduro's regime and boost his rival for power, National Assembly President Juan Guaidó.

Why it matters: The Trump administration is using all economic and diplomatic levers at its disposal in a push for regime change in Venezuela. The White House is hoping that if it deprives Maduro of cash, the Venezuelan military will have no reason to stay loyal to him. A source briefed told me: "The implications are huge because it will be difficult for Maduro to find another refiner of Venezuelan oil with any speed to keep cash flowing."

The latest: National Security Adviser John Bolton made the announcement in the White House briefing room on Monday afternoon alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin:

"We have continued to expose the corruption of Maduro and his cronies, and today's action ensures they can no longer loot the assets of the Venezuelan people. We expect... that today's measure totals $7 billion in assets blocked today plus over $11 billion in lost export proceeds over the next year. We also today call on the Venezuelan military and security forces to accept the peaceful democratic and constitutional transfer of power."

Between the lines: More than 20 countries have followed the U.S. in recognizing Guaidó as interim president, due to his status as the highest-ranking official to have won a free election. Maduro has portrayed the situation as a U.S. effort to intervene in Venezuela. There had been concerns that sanctioning Venezuela's oil exports would both strengthen that argument, and deepen the economic crisis.

The economic impact, per the AP:

  • "Venezuelan oil exports to the U.S. have declined steadily over the years. ... Still, Venezuela has consistently been the third- or fourth-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, and any disruption of imports could be costly for refiners. In 2017, the most recent year that data were available, Venezuela accounted for about 6% of U.S. crude imports."
  • "Venezuela is very reliant on the U.S. for its oil revenue. The country sends 41% of its oil exports to the U.S. Critically, U.S. refiners are among the few customers that pay cash to Venezuela for its oil. That's because Venezuela's oil shipments to China and Russia are usually taken as repayment for billions of dollars in debts."

Sen. Marco Rubio, who has taken a hawkish stance on Venezuela and played a key role in the Trump administration's policy, said: "The Maduro crime family has used PDVSA to buy and keep the support of many military leaders. The oil belongs to the Venezuelan people, and therefore the money PDVSA earns from its export will now be returned to the people through their legitimate constitutional government.”

What to watch: Bolton reiterated today that military force is possible, saying: "The president has made it very clear on this matter that all options are on the table." He also said the U.S. is "now as prepared as we can be" to protect diplomats in Caracas. The State Department has moved some personnel out of the country, but not complied with Maduro's demand that they all leave the country.

Go deeper: Trump mused about "military option" in Venezuela with Graham

Go deeper

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting parts of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

Updated 5 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.