Venezuela demands from the United States the lifting of sanctions “without conditions”, in the context of the dialogue that both countries are maintaining in order to guarantee democratic and transparent presidential elections before the end of 2024 in the Latin American country. In this context, a few months ago, the US partially and temporarily annulled a package of sanctions affecting the export of oil and gas by Venezuelan companies.
The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, demanded this Monday that the US government fully lift and without “conditions of any kind” the sanctions imposed on the economy of the Caribbean country. This would complete the partial revocation that began in November, when sanctions were annulled which had been imposed by the US in 2019, after the alleged electoral fraud in the Venezuelan presidential elections of 2018 when Maduro was re-elected as president.
In October 2023, the government and the Venezuelan opposition signed the so-called Pact of Barbados, an agreement that lays the groundwork for elections with guarantees in the second half of 2024. Through this pact, the Venezuelan State committed to offer guarantees to the opposition for legal and transparent elections.
Total lifting of sanctions
In a speech before members of the legislative branch, President Maduro defended the total lifting of sanctions against his country. “We have to tighten the march, raise our voices and, with all the strength of a country, demand that the United States of America lift, completely and permanently, all sanctions on the economy, on society and on Venezuela,” said the president.
Maduro spoke of a lifting “without conditions and without blackmail”. “We do not accept conditions of any kind, nor blackmail of any kind. Neither today nor ever have we accepted nor will we accept threats”, he remarked.
The President’s idea is not only to maintain beyond the agreed six months the annulment of the sanctions on oil and gas exports, but also to complete the total elimination of the prohibitions against his country.
For the time being, the annulled sanctions are extended until next April, but experts do not rule out an extension of the suspension due to the current fuel needs of the United States.
Pact of Barbados
Although the US was not involved in the final phase and signing of the Barbados Pact between the Venezuelan government and opposition, the agreement was the result of a series of diplomatic efforts in 2023 involving senior US officials. These US delegates held several face-to-face meetings with representatives of the Maduro government in Doha, the capital of Qatar, ostensibly to discuss possible terms for sanctions relief.
Washington worked jointly with Latin American and European governments to support a negotiated exit and to support informal channels of communication between the government and the opposition in Caracas.
The pact establishes the need for a set of electoral guarantees prior to the presidential vote, while setting the election date in the second half of 2024, as was the opposition’s preference. The steps agreed by both parties include a comprehensive update of the electoral registry, including efforts to register at least part of the large Venezuelan diaspora. Electoral specialists consider these improvements vital, given that, within Venezuela, more than three million people of voting age have not yet registered.
The agreement also foresees that the National Electoral Council will invite international observers to supervise the elections, in order to avoid possible fraud and electoral malpractices. Among these would be delegations from the European Union, the United Nations, the African Union and the Carter Center of the United States. This will be a continuance of what was agreed for the 2021 local elections, at which for the first time in fifteen years there were European observers.
Failure of “maximum pressure”
The US attitude changed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with the US need to guarantee its oil supply and the realization of the failure of the “maximum pressure” strategy carried out during the administration of Donald Trump. A few days after the start of the war in Europe, US officials directly contacted representatives of the Maduro government, announcing the country’s willingness to ease sanctions against Venezuela, if its government agreed with the opposition concerning the conducting of elections.
In this sense is interpreted, for example, one of the articles of the Pact of Barbados, which provides for the elimination of measures that could endanger the security of candidates and other political figures. This proviso could benefit President Nicolás Maduro himself, since the United States is offering a reward of fifteen million dollars to anyone who gives information leading to his arrest or conviction on charges of corruption and drug trafficking.
With these measures, the US also seeks to alleviate the significant flow of illegal migrants through the border with Mexico. Among Latin American migrants, a large number are of Venezuelan origin, a diaspora that the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration estimate at close to eight million people.