U.S. eases sanctions on Venezuela after election deal reached with opposition

The Biden administration on Wednesday eased sanctions on the Venezuela oil and gas industry after it reached an agreement with the opposition to hold elections next year. Photo by Kamal Akrayi/EPA
The Biden administration on Wednesday eased sanctions on the Venezuela oil and gas industry after it reached an agreement with the opposition to hold elections next year. Photo by Kamal Akrayi/EPA

Oct. 19 (UPI) -- The United States has, at least temporarily, repealed a handful of sanctions imposed against Venezuela after its government and opposition leaders signed an agreement on conditions for presidential elections to be held in the second half of next year.

The removal of sanctions was highly anticipated, though not without criticism as some had hoped for more concrete commitments from the government of Venezuela's authoritarian President Nicolas Maduro before the Biden administration would ease up on its financial vises.


The agreement, signed Wednesday in Bridgetown, Barbados, between Venezuela and the opposition Unitary Platform, stipulates for a presidential election to be held in the second half of 2024 with international election observers and media permitted to oversee the process.

However, the agreement is vague on other fronts and does not explicitly state that politicians banned from holding office, such as opposition frontrunner Maria Corina Machado, would be reinstated. It does say that each political party may choose its own candidate.


Though the status of barred politicians remained unclear, the Biden administration appears to be pressing the Maduro regime to ensure that all candidates are reinstated as part of its sanctions relief.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Thursday evening that they have conveyed their expectation and understanding that Venezuela will "define a specific timeline and process for the expedited reinstatement of all candidates."

He also said the regime must begin to release all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals and Venezuelan political prisoners.

"Failure to abide by the terms of this arrangement will lead the United States to reverse steps we have taken," he said.

The sanctions lifted Thursday concern licenses involving Venezuela's oil and gas sector and state-owned gold mining company Minerven. They also remove the secondary trading ban on certain Venezuelan sovereign bonds and debt owned by state-owned oil and natural gas company Petroleos de Venezuela, better known as PDVSA.

"Treasury is prepared to amend or revoke authorizations at any time, should representatives of Maduro fail to follow through on their commitments," Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement.


"All other restrictions imposed by the United States on Venezuela remain in place, and we will continue to hold bad actors accountable."

The United States has repeatedly told Venezuela that sanction relief would be possible if it makes meaningful progress that brings it closer to the restoration of democracy.

The agreement signed Tuesday is seen by the Biden administration as roadmap to presidential elections in a country that has been suffering from a political -- and economic -- crisis since Maduro's widely discredited 2018 re-election.

The United States, under the former administration of President Donald Trump, imposed heavy sanctions against Venezuela in an effort to unseat Maduro while spearheading a coalition of dozens of countries to back opposition leader Juan Guaido.

But as that effort failed as international support waned for Guaido's government, and in response, opposition political parities and civil society formed the Unitary Platform in April 2021. Norway-mediated negotiations between the two sides then followed but stalled in October 2021.

A resumption of talks occurred in November the next year, after which Maduro was reluctant to return to the negotiating table -- that is until a deal was inked Tuesday.


Senior Biden administration officials talking to reporters on background Thursday evening said the two sides have been engaged in regular conversations with the aid of the international community.

Though the idea appears to be a step in the direction of restoring democracy in the country, Machado on Thursday expressed worry over the agreement's lack of detailed actions needed to be taken and a timeline to pave the way for elections.

"In the past, the Maduro regime has consistently breached agreements," she said in a statement published to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

"What is important now is not just signing a new document but its implementation."

Primary elections in the country are to be held Sunday.

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