Though it’s hard to believe now, it wasn’t all that long ago that Venezuela was an economic powerhouse in South America.
The country had the largest GDP on the continent as late as 1982.
At the heart of the country’s previous wealth lies the world’s largest oil reserves.
To this day, Venezuela sits atop some 500 billion barrels of oil — an amount greater than any other country — representing $25 trillion in extractable energy.
Despite this incredibly valuable and abundant resource, the country has suffered economic catastrophe under the brutal reign of socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.
To maintain what little control he has left, Maduro now relies on the political influence and financial backing of China, Russia, and other countries eager to seize Venezuela’s vast energy resources.
With horrific conditions and little-to-no access to basic human services, Venezuela’s middle class is being driven out of the country, leaving only radical paramilitary groups that remain loyal to Maduro.
With Russian and Chinese funding, these groups will continue to ravage the country.
Beyond mere funding, Russia and Venezuela have signed an agreement opening the two nation’s ports to each other’s warships.
With a foothold in South America, Russia poses a grave threat to American security.
President Donald Trump is utterly correct in imposing tough sanctions on Venezuela.
Economic pressure is a necessary tactic in forcing Maduro and his oppressive regime out of power.
And as part of Trump’s sanctions program, he has also rightly allowed for strategic exemptions for American energy companies.
The reason is clear.
Our companies have heavily invested in Venezuelan energy resources for a century.
If American companies are forced to leave the country, not only will our adversaries gain control of the world’s largest oil fields, they will gain control of billions of dollars in American infrastructure established in Venezuela over the past century.
With this influx of money and power, China and Russia can and will continue to prop up Nicolas Maduro’s failing socialist regime, while solidifying their foothold in our hemisphere at the same time.
Those who want to remove all American business from Venezuela in order to hasten Maduro’s loss of power need to look at these domino effects of the bigger foreign policy picture.
Without our energy companies, there’s a massive void waiting to be filled by any of our adversaries willing to support Maduro — and China has already proven it has no problem backing the dictator.
Additionally, pulling out American companies would be an economic boon for China.
If China takes control of Venezuela’s 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil, it will disrupt — if not completely derail —President Trump’s strategic efforts to force the country into fair trade policies.
We would be offering China exactly the economic arsenal it needs to combat our demands.
Finally, it is only a matter of time before Maduro loses power, especially given our tough economic sanctions.
When that time comes, the United States must be in a position to assist the Venezuelan people and put the country back on a track toward freedom and prosperity.
Having an American presence on the ground is the only way to ensure the Venezuelan people have the resources, expertise and capacity to assist in the tremendous rebuilding effort required to help their country return to democracy.
If we rupture the century-old energy alliance now, we create yet another obstacle to Venezuela’s economic and political recovery — and expose ourselves to a massive national security threat.
With our companies gone, China and Russia would jump at the opportunity to take control of Venezuela’s vast energy resources — and extend their influence into our own hemisphere.
We absolutely can’t allow that to happen.
The opinions expressed by contributors and/or content partners are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of LifeZette.