US eases Venezuela oil sanctions after election deal

Supporters of the Venezuelan government last month marched against economic sanctions imposed by the United States

The United States is easing sanctions on Venezuela after the South American country’s government and opposition agreed to hold elections next year.

Sanctions will be eased on Venezuela’s oil, gas and gold sectors.

The Venezuelan government has agreed to invite international observers to monitor the election, which has been scheduled for the second half of 2024.

Other sanctions imposed over the suppression of protests and the erosion of democracy remain in place.

Washington has cautioned that the relaxation could be reversed if the electoral pact collapses.

A new general license issued by the US treasury department authorised Venezuela, which had been under hefty sanctions since 2019, to produce and export oil to its chosen markets for the next six months.

No time limit has been specified regarding the gold sector.

The US warned Venezuela that they must “define a specific timeline and process for the expedited reinstatement of all candidates” by the end of November, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“All who want to run for president should be allowed the opportunity,” he said, while calling for the release of “all wrongfully detained US nationals and Venezuelan political prisoners”.

The deal between the Venezuelan government and opposition was signed in Barbados on Tuesday.

The agreement contains 12 points, which include promises to give all candidates access to public and private media, and to guarantee their free and safe movement throughout the country.

The two sides have also agreed to update the voter registries, both inside and outside of the country, in order to ensure that the millions of Venezuelans who have emigrated can exercise their right to vote.

But the agreement allows for the exclusion of certain candidates under Venezuelan law, which could include opposition frontrunner María Corina Machado.

August 11, 2023, Maracaibo, Venezuela: Maria Corina Machado of the party Vente Venezuela, greets her supporters after her speech at a rally for the presidential candidacy in the upcoming elections in Venezuela.
María Corina Machado is running in the primary to choose a candidate to run against President Maduro

The administration of Donald Trump imposed harsh sanctions on Venezuela to punish President Nicolás Maduro’s government following his 2018 re-election, which the US has described as “illegitimate”.

But engagement between the two countries has improved under President Joe Biden.

The US has a vested interest in the crisis in Venezuela easing as the dire state of the economy in the Andean country has driven more than seven million Venezuelans to emigrate, with many heading to the US.

Venezuela also has the world’s largest proven oil reserves and a scaling back of US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry would benefit both countries economically.