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The review of the US sanctions policy towards Venezuela is long overdue




The Venezuelan interim government and representatives of Nicols Maduro’s regime met again last weekend to seek a solution to the country’s intractable political crisis. There is no doubt that elements of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure sanctions strategy, those that included the targeted seizure and / or freezing of personal assets of Maduro and his entourage, had an impact on the getting the diet to the table.

But when executive politics come under scrutiny from both left and right on Capitol Hill, it’s usually a sign that a significant course correction is warranted. This is the case with the wide range of punitive economic measures associated with maximum pressure which have proven to be a blunt instrument than a surgical tool. While well-intentioned in their goal of ridding the long-suffering Venezuelan people of Maduro, the ultimate failure of sweeping cross-sectoral sanctions to spur a swift democratic transition unleashed a cascade of unintended negative consequences. Time is running out to revise a sanctions architecture that has helped strengthen Maduro, worsened Venezuela’s severe economic and humanitarian crisis, harmed American businesses, and undermined our national security.

The energy sector entrusted to Maduro

When French and Norwegian energy companies Total and Equinor announced in July that they would abandon their Petrocedeo joint venture partnership with Petrleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), it was the latest chapter in an exodus of Western companies from Venezuela. . Adding insult to injury, PDVSA sang at the announcement, now Venezuela is the absolute owner of one of the most powerful corporations in Latin America. Why so happy? Because the total loss of $ 1.4 billion instantly became the gain of the cash-strapped Maduro schemes when PDVSA absorbed the French company’s share of the joint venture.

In the energy sector in particular, this is part of a model that sees current US policy perversely rewarding PDVSA / Maduro while punishing US and allied companies. An example of its counterproductive effect is embodied in the April 2020 amendment that the US Treasury made to General License 8 that prohibits US companies from claiming their oil extracts in Venezuela. PDVSA now retains and sells oil that was previously owned by American companies, further enriching the Maduro regime at the expense of companies. In November last year, the US government banned US allied companies Repsol and ENI from accepting Venezuelan oil as a form of payment for their operations and production of natural gas. As might be expected, the result was similar to the change in General License 8: PDVSA now pockets all natural gas produced at the expense of Europeans.

The fate of Venezuelans

The exodus of American and allied companies is hardly confined to the energy sector. The current US sanctions policy has contributed significantly to the flight of companies including iconic American brands in the agriculture, automotive and financial services industries that had committed to Venezuela and employed dozens of people. thousands of Venezuelans for decades. Their exit is a source of unequivocal despair for ordinary Venezuelans. This is why a study commissioned by the House last fall found that an overwhelming percentage of Venezuelan Americans support the continued presence of American and allied companies in the country. This group whose family and friends are suffering at the hands of a kleptocratic, repressive and incompetent regime is keenly aware that American and Western companies are often the only source of financial support for their employees, families and communities.

American national security

It is also clear that when Western companies leave, it is often American adversaries who fill the void, further strengthening their positions in our hemisphere. A recent Wilson Center study illustrated the myriad of ways in which authoritarian enemies of the United States such as China, Iran and Russia are helping the regime bypass maximum pressure sanctions and come to the aid of the regime in critical sectors, illustrated by Iran providing technical support to PDVSA to rebuild their interiors. refining sector. Last month, Russia announced its broad commitment to strengthening the security of Venezuela’s energy infrastructure as Western companies leave. oil production.

A call to action

The conclusion for the Biden administration should be clear. The overhaul of a counterproductive US sanctions policy towards Venezuela that produced a myriad of unintended negative consequences is long overdue. A strategy originally designed to bring about rapid regime change only served to prolong Maduros’ rule, exacerbate the plight of ordinary Venezuelans, undermine U.S. / allied businesses, and undermine national security. Informed by decades of US House opposition to the failure of unilateral US sanctions maneuvers, we warned in these pages four years ago of these same unintended consequences and recommended an alternative approach to sanctions. multilateral organizations. The U.S. business community stands ready to provide the administration with recommendations on a revised policy designed to simultaneously eliminate both Maduro’s reward and the punishment of Western businesses and the Venezuelan people.




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