Can the US force Venezuela to abide by democratic norms?

By advocating for a return to democracy in Venezuela, the US aims to promote greater political and economic stability in the region.

The United States is considering reimposing oil sanctions on Venezuela primarily because the Venezuelan government, under President Nicolás Maduro, has barred opposition candidates from participating in elections. This move is seen as violating democratic norms and an agreement reached in Barbados that was intended to promote fair elections. The US had temporarily eased sanctions, allowing for operations like those of the oil company Chevron and a prisoner swap, but recent actions by Venezuela’s Supreme Court to uphold a ban on opposition candidates have led the US to consider these tougher measures again.

The sanctions are part of a broader strategy to pressure the Maduro regime to make democratic reforms, including freeing political prisoners and ensuring free and fair elections. The US State Department has set a deadline for these actions, after which the sanctions would be reinstated. The goal is to support the Venezuelan people’s aspirations for a democratic future and encourage the Maduro government to return to the principles agreed upon in the Barbados negotiations.

The history of US-Venezuela relations, particularly regarding sanctions, is complex and involves a mix of political, economic, and humanitarian issues.

Historically, Venezuela was one of the United States’ closest allies in South America. The relationship was largely economic, centered around oil. Venezuela has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, and for decades, it was a major supplier to the US market.

Tensions began to escalate with the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998. Chávez’s policies of nationalizing significant sectors of the economy, including several assets owned by US companies, and his anti-US rhetoric marked a significant shift in relations. The US expressed concerns over human rights and democracy under his leadership.

Following Chávez’s death in 2013, Nicolás Maduro took office. Under Maduro, the political and economic crisis in Venezuela deepened. The US, among other countries, has not recognized Maduro’s presidency as legitimate, especially following the 2018 presidential election, which was widely condemned as fraudulent.

The US government imposed sanctions aimed at Maduro’s government to pressure a return to democracy. These sanctions have included financial sanctions and restrictions on dealings with the state oil company, PDVSA, which is a crucial source of Venezuelan government revenue.

There was a brief period of easing tensions under the Biden administration, which sought to negotiate solutions involving opposition parties in Venezuela. This led to a temporary relaxation of some sanctions, particularly in the oil sector, to encourage democratic processes. However, with the recent barring of opposition candidates from elections and other undemocratic actions, the US is considering reimposing these sanctions.

The situation remains dynamic, with ongoing negotiations and international involvement trying to address the multifaceted crisis in Venezuela, balancing pressure on Maduro’s government while also addressing humanitarian needs.

By reimposing oil sanctions on Venezuela, the United States aims to achieve several strategic and political goals.

The primary goal of reimposing sanctions is to exert pressure on President Nicolás Maduro’s government to adopt democratic reforms. This includes allowing fair and free elections, releasing political prisoners, and restoring judicial independence and the rule of law. Sanctions are a tool to compel the Venezuelan government to engage seriously in negotiations that might lead to a democratic transition.

The US hopes to bolster the Venezuelan opposition by weakening the financial base of the current government, thereby potentially shifting the balance of power within the country. This is based on the belief that reducing the government’s key revenue streams might limit its ability to maintain control over the political and economic landscape of Venezuela.

The sanctions also aim to hold the Venezuelan government accountable for human rights abuses and corruption. By targeting the economic interests of the elite, the US seeks to discourage practices that it views as oppressive and undemocratic.

By advocating for a return to democracy in Venezuela, the US aims to promote greater political and economic stability in the region. The crisis in Venezuela has led to mass migration and other issues that have strained resources and exacerbated tensions in neighboring countries.

Although not always explicitly stated, there are also underlying economic interests at play, particularly related to the control and management of Venezuela’s vast oil reserves. The US has a vested interest in a stable and friendly regime that can ensure the reliable supply of oil.

The reimposition of sanctions is intended as leverage to push for a political solution in Venezuela that aligns with US interests and values, particularly the promotion of democracy and human rights.