U.S. sanctions on Venezuela to be reactivated as Maduro regime fails to fully implement changes

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At  12:01 am today, April 18, Washington made good on its promise to reinstate oil sanctions against Venezuela after President Nicolas Maduro dropped the ball on a deal made to promote a democratic electoral process in the Spanish-speaking Republic. 

A preceding statement from the U.S. State Department said, “After a careful review of the current situation in Venezuela, the United States determined Nicolas Maduro and his representatives have not fully met the commitments made under the electoral roadmap agreement, which was signed by Maduro representatives and the opposition in Barbados in October 2023.  Therefore, General License 44, which authorizes transactions related to oil or gas sector operations in Venezuela, will expire…” 

To facilitate an orderly transition post the expiry of General License 44, the U.S. issued a 45-day wind-down license. The State Department said that the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control will also review requests for specific licenses to extend activities beyond the wind-down period on a case-by-case basis.

The move was not at all shocking to onlookers. And Maduro may have soured the good rapport he was attempting to build with Washington.  

The U.S. appeared hopeful that Maduro would stick to the Barbados Agreement after he delivered on “some of the commitments,” the State Department said. 

However, the continued blockage of Venezuela’s political opposition did not work in Maduro’s favor. 

“We are concerned that Maduro and his representatives prevented the democratic opposition from registering the candidate of their choice, harassed and intimidated political opponents, and unjustly detained numerous political actors and members of civil society,” the statement outlined. 

Still, Washington wants Maduro to uphold the deal. “We will continue to support Venezuelans’ aspirations for a more democratic, stable, and prosperous Venezuela.  We and our partners in the international community urge Maduro to uphold all the commitments made under the electoral roadmap established by the signatories of the Barbados Agreement,” the statement ended. 

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The Maduro regime faced extensive U.S. sanctions, notably during the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign in 2019. Sanctions targeted Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA, obstructing its sales to the U.S., its major customer. Additionally, the U.S. and 50 other nations had recognized then opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. These actions exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis, heavily reliant on oil for 90% of export income.

But the sanctions relief offered some reprieve. 

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Washington eventually agreed to temporarily lift oil and gold sanctions for six months after Maduro envoys signed the Barbados Agreement during a meeting with Venezuelan opposition leaders in Barbados last October. The deal outlined ground rules to enhance competitiveness in the upcoming presidential election this summer, including a legal process to reinstate banned presidential candidates like opposition leader María Corina Machado. 

Despite agreement, Machado’s ban was upheld. So, Washington partially reinstated the sanctions on Venezuela’s gold sector in Jan. It revoked General License 43 – which authorized transactions involving Minerven – the Venezuelan state-owned gold mining company. U.S. entities were also given 14 days to wind down any transactions authorized under that license. Machado is Maduro’s main opponent and appears to be his biggest threat to re-election.

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