US May Halt Oil Imports From Venezuela

El Salvador’s President Salvador Sanchez Ceren defended Maduro at Nicaragua

El Salvador’s President Salvador Sanchez Ceren defended Maduro at Nicaragua's Sao Paulo Forum

"The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles", Trump said in a statement Monday.

Venezuela is the third-largest oil exporter to the United States, with the daily rate of imports for the week to July 7 at 823,000 barrels, according to the EIA, about 30,000 bpd less than Saudi Arabia's daily exports to the U.S. In 2016, Venezuelan imports accounted for 9.5 percent of total U.S. crude imports.

"The US once again calls for free and fair elections and stands with the people of Venezuela in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy", he said.

In response, Maduro held a session of the country's National Defense Council, reaffirming that the National Constituent Assembly "is already in the hands of the people who will exercise their right to vote".

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The conservative opposition, which has the backing of the U.S., has opposed the initiative and even organised an informal poll on Sunday to gauge support.

Trump has previously promised America would do "whatever is necessary" to prevent the collapse of the Venezuelan state, and has met with prominent anti-socialist opposition leaders in the White House. A majority of people oppose the Constituent Assembly, which critics have said is a sham election skewed to give Maduro a majority. How does the Constituent Assembly violate Venezuelas Constitution and how can its consequences be reversed?

The U.S. government's "unbelievable" comments on Venezuela "shows its absolute bias towards the violent and extremist sectors of Venezuelan politics, which favor the use of terrorism to overthrow a popular and democratic government", the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry added in a statement.

"The change [of power] is unstoppable and inevitable, the bloc promises to guarantee stability", a statement by Henry Ramos, the former president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, quoted by the Nacional media outlet, read. "In the same way, they highlighted the importance of the plebiscite called for Sunday, July 16". Those nominations would not give the opposition a supreme court majority but are nearly certain to be rejected by the current court and the executive branch, making them a largely symbolic tactic to increase pressure on Maduro.

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"The fear we have, and which we are afraid to say out loud, is that this situation could turn into a bloodbath", he said. "We won't allow it, and we'll be watching closely", he warned.

"We are seeing empty streets and most shops closed", said opposition leader Henrique Capriles while touring the city on foot.

The dry run vote for the National Constituent Assembly coincided with a symbolic referendum called by the opposition which asked people to vote whether they want a constituent assembly or not; whether they want the armed forces to support the existing constitution and the decisions of the national assembly; and whether they want immediate general elections.

Maduro said on national television that he'll press ahead with plans to rewrite the nation's constitution and said that hundreds of Venezuela's largest companies are functioning "at 100 percent" despite the strike.

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