The Biden administration is lifting sanctions on Venezuela amid the latest round of negotiations between the Maduro regime and members of the opposition.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a six-month license authorizing transactions in Venezuela’s oil and gas sectors. It handed out licenses permitting business with Venezuela’s gold and mining company, Minerven. It also amended two licenses, allowing companies to incur in the secondary trading of Venezuelan sovereign bonds as well as the debt of its state-owned oil company, PDVSA.
The Treasury’s announcement comes a day after the Venezuelan regime and members from the opposition signed a twelve-point electoral pact, which includes promises from the government to give all opposition candidates access to public and private media, guarantees their free and safe movement throughout the country, ensures that the millions of Venezuelans in exile can vote, and approves the participation of international observers.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that America’s actions were “consistent with our longstanding commitment to provide U.S. sanctions relief in response to concrete steps toward competitive elections and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
However, there is no evidence to suggest that the Venezuelan regime will actually allow free and fair elections in the country, as Maduro and his partners have effectively tightened their grip on power for the past four years—thereby diminishing any potential incentive they could have for negotiations.
Currently, the Maduro regime holds a dominant position in Venezuela. The opposition’s popularity remains on the floor. Most activists and dissidents are in exile. And long gone are the days when Venezuela’s civil society protested daily on the streets of Caracas or Barquisimeto, as over seven million people have left the country.
Internationally, Venezuela’s geopolitical standing is miles ahead compared to its position a few years ago. Maduro has the full support of strong autocracies like Russia, Iran, and China. He now has Latin America as an ally, as most center-right governments have lost their power. And he now sees the democratic world eager to resume relations with Venezuela as they focus on Eastern Europe and East Asia.
Under these conditions, why would the Maduro regime allow a situation that could even slightly compromise his grip on power? Especially when they are being investigated by the International Criminal Court for human rights violations. There is zero chance.
This is why it is puzzling to read analysts arguing that the present situation should bring hope for an “eventual peaceful and democratic resolution” in Venezuela.
The reality is that this week’s sanctions relief from the Biden administration has nothing to do with the well-being of the Venezuelan people. Venezuela will not have free and fair elections next year, and the Venezuelan people will not enjoy greater political freedoms or economic opportunities.
The concessions have nothing to do with America’s interest in boosting global oil flows either. At best, Venezuela’s oil production is expected to grow by less than 200,000 barrels per day in the next two years, which is not enough to mitigate the high oil prices caused by the Russian sanctions and the OPEC+ output cuts. This increase in production would situate Venezuela at approximately one million barrels per day, which is less than a third of its production levels during the 1990s and substantially less than Brazil or Mexico.
Lastly, Biden’s concessions also have nothing to do with America’s national security, as an unfree Venezuela means having an increasingly dangerous authoritarian hub in the Western Hemisphere. Countries like Iran and Russia are projecting their power in the region through Venezuela. Criminal groups are also laundering money and basing their operations there. These reasons make the cause for a free Venezuela as important from a regional security perspective as from a human rights standpoint.
To me, it is evident that Biden’s decision is not driven by Venezuela’s democratic aspirations, the global oil market, or America’s national interest. It really looks like Biden’s call is all about those big corporations aiming to cash in on Venezuela’s oil fields and gold mines. It’s almost as if their profits are taking center stage, overshadowing America’s geopolitical needs and any resemblance of strategic thinking; a worrisome development, especially as the world is turning more dangerous, radicalized, and authoritarian.
Jorge Jraissati is the Director of Alumni for Liberty, an international network of young freedom activists with over 10,000 members from 139 countries. Its members include elected officials, think tank directors, journalists, academics, and other leaders committed to forming a global pro-liberty coalition. His initiatives include international advocacy, grassroots activism, policy proposals, training programs, research projects, and humanitarian missions. Jorge is also an economist and a researcher at IESE Business School for the Center for Public Leadership and Government.