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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro speaking in Caracas. Photo: Matias Delacroix/Getty Images)

In the absence of a foreign policy victory in Venezuela, President Trump's economic embargo on the country shows his sights resettling on the prospect of regime change.

The big picture: Despite Washington's anointment of Juan Guaidó as the country's democratically elected leader and its tightening asset freeze on government property, regime change remains a high hurdle. Behind the administration's recent move is the untested wager that the renewed threat of extraterritorial sanctions against Venezuela's trade partners China and Russia could erode their support for President Nicolás Maduro.

Context: Venezuela has generally not been a bargaining chip in broader geopolitical games, apart from U.S. lines drawn around military meddling in the region by non-hemispheric powers, but more great power politics are now in play.

  • While it may be rational for China and Russia to back down and realize the economic benefits of the transition in Venezuela sought by the U.S., national pride is also at stake.
  • If Washington cannot convince China and Russia through arguments around economic self-interest, gaining traction with them becomes much harder.

Between the lines: Trump faces a steep challenge, but it's not all downside for him.

  • Even if greater economic pressure fails to drive out Maduro, going all-in could have the convenient side benefit of strengthening his 2020 reelection chances in Florida, where, along with Cuban-Americans, Venezuelan-Americans are key swing voters.
  • Supposing Maduro remains in power, Temporary Protected Status or its equivalent for U.S.–based Venezuelan migrants would be a valuable consolation prize to deliver in an election year.

What to watch: Maduro, always spoiling for a fight with the White House, will likely use the embargo to further scapegoat the U.S. for Venezuela's economic collapse.

  • Maduro's next counter-moves could involve insisting his delegation is still committed to Norway-sponsored mediation with Guaidó while laying the groundwork for condemnation of harsh American sanctions at the UN.
  • Trump could face a choice to escalate his embargo to a full blockade if the new economic pressure does not tilt support toward Guaidó.
  • Reluctant to enter the fray, China and Russia may still be drawn in should the U.S. turn to military might to enforce its embargo — and it's unclear what lengths they would go to in defense of Maduro.

Michael McCarthy is a research fellow at American University’s CLALS, an adjunct professor at George Washington University's Elliott School for International Affairs, and the founder and CEO of Caracas Wire.

Go deeper

38 mins ago - World

Brazil senators vote to recommend criminal charges for Bolsonaro

Brazilian senators vote on probe into President Bolsonaro's handling of pandemic. Photo: Gustavo Minas/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Brazilian Senate committee Tuesday voted to approve a report recommending President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with a raft of criminal indictments, including crimes against humanity over his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, per AP.

Why it matters: Bolsonaro has become the face of a right-wing approach to the pandemic that includes repudiating vaccines and masks and resisting lockdowns and other mitigation measures. The Senate report holds him personally responsible for half of the country's 600,000 deaths.

Former Georgetown tennis coach pleads guilty to accepting admissions bribes

Gordon Ernst (left) former head tennis coach at Georgetown, outside a courthouse in Boston in 2019. Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A former Georgetown University head tennis coach has pleaded guilty Tuesday to bribery charges related to facilitating the admission of prospective applicants.

Why it matters: Gordon Ernst solicited and accepted bribes from William Singer, ringleader of the cheating scheme uncovered by Operation Varsity Blues, and families in exchange for helping prospective applicants get into Georgetown as student athletes, according to the Justice Department.

4 hours ago - Health

CDC says some immunocompromised people can get fourth COVID shot

Photo: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidelines Tuesday that some immunocompromised people who have received either Pfizer or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines will be able to get a fourth shot.

Details: People over 18 who are "moderately to severely immunocompromised" and have received three doses of an mRNA vaccine may get a fourth shot (of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines) at least six months after getting their third Pfizer or Moderna dose, per the CDC.