The Biden administration is nothing if not steady in its failing Venezuela policy. That policy is to make believe the Maduro regime seeks compromise, and to continue offering concessions on U.S. sanctions despite the regime’s increasing repression.
Consider the last few days. On August 23, Reuters reported that “U.S. officials are drafting a proposal that would ease sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector, allowing more companies and countries to import its crude oil, if the South American nation moves toward a free and fair presidential election….” This comes after some sanctions have already been lifted: in November 2022, as Time Magazine reported then, “The Biden administration granted oil giant Chevron Corp. a license to resume oil production in Venezuela after U.S. sanctions halted all drilling activities almost three years ago.” That was supposed to incentivize negotiations between the regime and the democratic opposition, but there are no negotiations.
Despite the failure of that ploy, here we go again. The Maduro regime is showing day after day that it will absolutely not permit free elections. On August 21, the regime announced it was seeking an arrest warrant for opposition leader Antonio Ledezma, a former mayor of Caracas who is living in exile in Spain. Ledezma is a key supporter and adviser of Maria Corina Machado, right now the leading opposition candidate for the presidency. On August 23, the regime had its puppet National Assembly appoint a new National Electoral Council—the body that’s supposed to manage elections and guarantee their fairness. It chose Elvis Amoroso to lead the Council. Amoroso has recently, in his capacity as Comptroller General, disqualified the candidacies of most opposition leaders—starting with Maria Corina Machado and including other top leaders such as Leopoldo Lopez—making fair elections impossible. In 2019, Amoroso barred former interim president Juan Guaido from running for office for 15 years. Amoroso has been under U.S. and Canadian sanctions since 2017. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned him as part of a group “associated with undermining electoral processes, media censorship, or corruption in government-administered food programs in Venezuela.”
Thus in one week we have headlines like Bloomberg’s “US in Talks With Venezuela Over Sanctions Relief in Return for Fair Elections,” and the Maduro regime’s contemptuous and even humiliating responses—all demonstrating again and again that there will not be fair elections.
As Reuters noted, “An early version of the proposal was rejected in July by Dinorah Figuera, head of Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly which controls the country's foreign assets, after discussions with Venezuela's main opposition parties….The reason for rejecting the draft proposal, which could become one of the powerful U.S. negotiation tools in future meetings with Maduro's envoys, was the lack of concrete steps by Maduro so far toward fair elections in the country….”
The only concrete steps since then are repressive ones like the effort to arrest Ledezma and the selection of a sanctioned regime henchman to lead the National Electoral Council. And the July proposal came only days after the regime barred the opposition figure who leads the polling among opposition figures, Maria Corina Machado, from running.
Yet the farce continues, as if the Biden administration actually believes Maduro will permit free elections. But perhaps “farce” is the wrong word, because there is nothing amusing about administration policy. It sends a clear signal to the regime and to the opposition that the administration strongly (desperately?) wants a deal and will compromise the political rights of Venezuelans to get it. Oil, it seems, weighs more than human rights when it comes to Biden administration policy in Venezuela.