President Trump recently imposed sanctions against Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA.

However, the US has also sent aid, primarily food, to the Colombian border, with the aim of getting it to Venezuela.

Nicolás Maduro, President of Venezuela (although his claim is disputed), argues that the effect of US aid is small compared to the income loss due to sanctions, claiming that the US "robs us of 30 billion dollars and offers us four crumbs."

Is he correct? Setting aside the (likely incorrect) claims about the food being contaminated, how does its value compare to the projected lost income due to the recent oil sanctions (or to other sanctions if supposed to be significant)?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jamiec
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 8:49

2 Answers 2


First off, you need some context for the question.

Maduro isn't exactly "President of Venezuela" at the moment. He claims the presidency... but about 50 countries have called the recent election a fraud. Instead, they're recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president.

Under Maduro's regime, the military was in charge of all food distribution. Any food aid was technically going through Maduro... and a lot of the time, the military would make more cash simply selling it to someone outside the country.

So, finally, the missing context: the food aid is explicitly not going to Maduro. It's going to Guaido and his volunteers. The US is using it as another bit of leverage to try to oust Maduro, and Maduro is purposely trying to shut the international aid down (with the quote "We are not beggars.")

Whether or not the aid is more/less than the embargo is kind of irrelevant. Because the embargo is specifically of a Maduro-run state enterprise... and the aid is something the opposition is calling for and Maduro doesn't want. If the US was providing 100 times the aid... Maduro would hate it 100 times as much. His objection isn't really one of quantity... but the argument that 'you're giving us food for 3,500 children while stealing 30 billion from us' is a lot more compelling than 'Don't send food aid for our starving citizens, because "we're not beggars"'.

  • 3
    The thing is, the oil revenue is central to the economy of Venezuela, whether or not the company is state run. Indeed, the extent to which the economy relies on oil is largely responsible for the current situation. Some of it is diverted to oligarchs, but a lot of it ends up in the pockets of Venezuelan citizens, directly or otherwise.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 19:24
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    @Obie2.0 I could argue with you about "a lot of it ends up in the pockets of venezuelan citizens" - considering there's mass starvation going on. But that's missing the critical problem with the OP's question. The "Aid" is not wanted by Maduro at all. He's actually shutting down bridges to try to prevent it from making it into the country. That's the context missing from the question. It's not "Amount A" versus "Amount B". It's "Amount A that gets funneled through Maduro" vs "Amount B that Maduro doesn't get credit for."
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 19:31
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    Maduro's argument is that US sanctions have prevented Venezuelan citizens from receiving money that they otherwise would have. This is probably true of the most recent sanctions. The question is, to what extent? Is it like Maduro says? Or is he inflating the numbers to justify his actions?
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 19:39
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    A good 23% of Venezuelan employment is in industry, primarily oil.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 19:41
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    Instead of answering the question (quote: "kind of irrelevant") this answer just says 'Maduro=bad'. There are also a lot of countries backing Maduro still, count them (my newspaper just arrived at 60), or the people they represent. Hint: China, India, Turkey, Iran, Cuba, Bolivia and Russia are quite full of people. But this political bickering over your political opinion is entirely besides the point. If that's the context you think is needed for an answer, then it's time to write that actual answer actually down as well. Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 13:11

Maduro’s claim is a fallacious equivocation

robs us of 30 billion dollars and offers us four crumbs

Maduro’s statement is misleading because he’s referring to an “us” that is actually two different groups of people within the same country. The people being “robbed” of $30 billion are the people who run the state owned oil company. The people being given the “four crumbs” are people who are starving to death due to the government’s bad policies and likely wouldn’t receive any share of the $30 billion except in the most indirect ways at best.

It may be true that the sanctions cost Maduro’s regime $30 billion. It may be true that the US food aid is less than $30 billion dollars worth of food. It is not true that these policies are affecting an identical set of people.

EDIT: This answer has been flagged as requiring more sources. I think this is silly because my answer is a demonstration that a logical fallacy is being employed. But, whatever, I will oblige anyway.

Here is a list of current sanctions against Venezuela from the state department, which shows that the sanctions are directed against the state run petroleum company and specific individuals in the Maduro regime: https://www.state.gov/e/eb/tfs/spi/venezuela/

In 2017, the Agricultural sector was 4.4% of Venezuela's GDP. The latest figure for nominal GDP is 96.2 billion dollars from 2018. These values are from this Wikipedia page: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Venezuela

If we assume that agriculture and GDP haven't changed much since these figures were released, the total Venezuelan domestic agricultural economy is about $3.84 billion. The same wikipedia page lists total imports for 2017 as $9.1 billion. If we assume 100% of that is food (which it isn't) that puts a ceiling of $13 billion on the amount of money Venezuela spends on food.

$13 billion is less than $30 billion. If we assume that Maduro's claim of sanctions costing Venezuela $30 billion is correct, then there is a minimum of $17 billion that would not be spent on feeding people. This minimum would assume that the Venezuelan government would completely shut down the agricultural sector of their economy in response to sanctions, which is an absurd assumption.

The people who are losing the money due to sanctions and the people who are not able to eat and are getting food aid are not the same people, because the money from sanctions is largely not being spent on food.

  • According to a Venezuelan government source only about $15 billion is Citgo money. In any event, that would still be money that the government could choose to use for domestic food programs.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 14:38
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    @Brian Z Because "domestic food programs" in Venezuela are clearly working optimally at the moment.
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 14:41
  • Their argument would be that is due to sanctions. If their $38 billion figure is accurate, that's not a trivial point. More evidence is needed.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 14:56
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    @Brian Z People were already starving before the sanctions were put in place; that's the whole reason that there is a popular uprising in the streets and the resulting leadership challenge that prompted the sanctions to begin with.
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 15:00
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    Per your edit : answers on this site REQUIRE sources in order to be accepted and upvoted. Unsourced answers are downvoted and deleted. This is different from other sites on the SE network because our answers need to be backed up by sources.
    – DenisS
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 19:35

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