US to Ease Sanctions on Venezuelan Oil for Freer Presidential Election

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(The Washington Post, 16.Oct.2023) — The Biden administration and the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have agreed to a deal in which the U.S. would ease sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and the authoritarian state would allow a competitive, internationally monitored presidential election next year, according to two people familiar with the breakthrough talks.

The sanctions relief is to be announced after Maduro’s government and Venezuela’s U.S.-backed opposition sign an agreement to include commitments by the socialist government to allow a freer vote in 2024, the people said. They’re expected to do that during a meeting in Barbados on Tuesday with U.S. officials in attendance.

Maduro, who claimed victory in a 2018 election widely viewed as fraudulent, would agree to a process for lifting bans on opposition candidates running, one of the people said, though it is not clear how quickly that process would take place. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks.

A senior administration official said the deal did not include plans to unfreeze Venezuelan assets currently held in the United States. The U.S. is likely to put a time limit on any sanctions relief so that it could be reversed if Maduro didn’t comply with his end of deal.

Maduro would commit to accepting international electoral observations and opening up media access for the elections. It was not clear if the deal would also involve the release of political prisoners in Venezuela.

The meeting in Barbados is to be announced Monday morning. The delegations are to arrive this afternoon.

If the deal is signed, the U.S. government is prepared to announce the lifting of certain oil sanctions against Venezuela, the two people said. The sanctions relief could include a general license for Venezuela’s state-owned oil agency to resume business with the United States and other countries.

U.S. officials have said they would consider easing sanctions if Maduro laid the groundwork for free and fair presidential elections. A State Department representative did not respond to a request for comment.

The agreement comes days before Venezuela’s opposition parties plan to hold a primary vote to chose a single candidate to back against Maduro. The front-runner in the unofficial primary, María Corina Machado, is one of several opposition leaders the Maduro government has barred from running for office. The disqualification was sharply condemned by the U.S. government.

The United States has imposed sanctions against the Venezuelan government or Venezuelan individuals for more than 15 years, but significantly tightened them in early 2019 after declaring Maduro’s 2018 victory illegitimate.

The Trump administration sanctioned Venezuela’s state oil company, the central bank and key government officials. Then it imposed a wider economic embargo. It froze the property and interests of the Maduro government in the United States and prohibited Americans from doing business with the government.

The deal emerged from direct talks between Biden administration officials and Maduro government representatives that began last year during the start of the war in Ukraine. The Biden administration began easing restrictions on Chevron, the main U.S. oil company with assets in Venezuela, in a gesture intended to support talks between the Maduro government and the opposition.

The U.S. also announced this month it would resume direct deportation flights to Venezuela, another sign of thawing relations between the two countries. The strained relationship had limited the United States’ ability to return undocumented Venezuelan migrants.


By Samantha Schmidt, Ana Vanessa Herrero and Karen DeYoung. Herrero reported from Caracas, Venezuela. DeYoung reported from Washington.

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