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United States to reimpose sanctions on Venezuelan oil over unfair elections

By Chris Benson
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (pictured in Caracas in 2020) last week told reporters that he "will never close the door to dialogue with anybody." File Photo by Rayner Pena/EPA-EFE
1 of 3 | Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (pictured in Caracas in 2020) last week told reporters that he "will never close the door to dialogue with anybody." File Photo by Rayner Pena/EPA-EFE

April 17 (UPI) -- The United States on Wednesday announced that it will reimpose sanctions on Venezuelan oil after the government had conceded that the South American country had not gotten close enough to free and fair elections, as agreed upon.

A senior Biden administration official in a briefing with reporters had indicated that while President Nicolas Maduro met some his country's "key commitments," Venezuela had "fallen short" of things they said they would do.

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Companies doing business with Venezuela will have 45 days to wind down their business affairs, according to the Treasury Department.

Last month, the State Department said it was "deeply concerned" by the Venezuelan government's pattern of blocking opposition parties from registering candidates in the July presidential election.

The senior administration official said they will "continue to engage in a constructive and in private, pragmatic way to try to move the election back towards a better course," and "will be watching and monitoring very carefully."

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The United States previously had called on Maduro's government to "ensure international observer access, end the jailing and harassment of civil society and opposition members, allow all candidates to run and campaign, update the electoral registry and release all unjustly detained political prisoners."

Last October, the United States had temporarily repealed a handful of sanctions imposed against Venezuela after Maduro's government and opposition leaders signed an agreement on conditions for upcoming presidential elections in July.

Last week during a press conference, Maduro told reporters that he "will never close the door to dialogue with anybody."

He was re-elected in 2018 in an election the United States had widely viewed as not free or fair. It also was an election that had its lowest voter turnout since 1998.

"I give the following message to the negotiators and to President Biden," Maduro said last week before speaking in broken English: "You want, I want. You don't want, I, too, don't want."

In a letter sent to Biden last week by seven Republican senators, the group urged the president to impose further sanctions as a next step, saying the United States "must hold the Maduro regime accountable for failing to uphold its commitments."

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"If the U.S. fails to take a credible stance on ensuring free and fair elections are held in Venezuela," the seven senators wrote, "the prospects of a democratic Venezuela will continue to diminish, which will further embolden authoritarian aggressors such as the People's Republic of China (PRC), Iran and Russia."

On social media Wednesday morning, Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican who signed the letter with six other Senate colleagues, including Sen. Marco Rubio, said, "Appeasing dictators" like Maduro "hasn't worked so far, and it won't work now."

"Joe Biden must stand with the people of Venezuela and refuse to renew any sanctions relief for Maduro," Scott, Florida's former governor, posted on X.

Later Wednesday morning, Mexico's former president, Vicente Fox, called Maduro a "dictator" in a social media post.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., commended Biden for his action. She said Venezuelan people "deserve real democracy."

"The need for action was clear," the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman said in a statement.

"The regime refused to register opposition candidate María Corina Machado or her substitute, Dr. Corina Yoris, and Maduro has demonstrated his cruel neglect for his obligation to provide for a free and fair election by continuing to terrorize, harass or imprison human rights defenders, charitable organizations, and journalists," said Wasserman Schultz, co-chair of the Congressional Venezuela Democracy Caucus.

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"These unacceptable breaches of the Barbados Agreement, a good-faith effort by the president and Venezuela's democratic opposition, which was agreed to by Maduro and designed to make progress towards a return to democracy, have been met with a swift and forceful response," she said.

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