The country’s economy is almost entirely dependent on its oil industry, which accounts for 95 percent of Venezuela’s exports. But a lack of investment in the sector has made it less and less profitable and productive.

A crash in oil prices that started in late 2014 made things worse. The International Monetary Fund currently expects Venezuela’s inflation rate to rise by a crippling 720 percent this year.

However, sanctioning the country’s most important economic component could have adverse consequences on regular Venezuelans, said Dany Bahar, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“The sanctions are a very delicate topic because they are a double-edged sword,” Bahar said. If the U.S. places sanctions on Venezuela’s oil business, “then a lot of people will suffer.”

Bahar noted that such measures would further restrict the flow of capital into the country and could exacerbate an already dire humanitarian crisis. Venezuela has been dealing with a massive shortage of food, medicine and other basic goods.

“At the same time,” Bahar said, imposing stronger sanctions “could make it harder for the Maduro regime to continue buying the loyalty of people.”

—Reuters contributed to this report.