Amid deliberations within the Biden administration regarding the potential reinstatement of energy sanctions on Venezuela, the United States remains in dialogue with representatives from President Nicolas Maduro's government, according to Brian A. Nichols, a State Department official. The discussions are part of a broader effort to assess whether the Maduro government has met specific conditions to prevent a rollback of the relaxation of sanctions that occurred in October.
Nichols emphasized that the U.S. is actively engaged in conversations with Maduro's representatives while maintaining close consultations with Venezuela's democratic opposition. The aim is to identify pathways toward creating conditions conducive to a more democratic, prosperous, and secure Venezuela. Nichols made these remarks during a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council.
The U.S. had set forth certain expectations for the Maduro government, including lifting bans on opposition candidates from holding public office, releasing political prisoners, and addressing the situation of Americans wrongfully detained by November 30. While the Maduro administration has taken steps to allow previously banned opposition figures to defend their cases before the country's top tribunal, other conditions have yet to be met.
Nichols stressed that for progress to occur, the Maduro authorities must demonstrate the willingness to permit a genuine opposition candidate to participate in the election. This process should be concluded by the formal election date.
One notable individual affected by the ban on opposition candidates is Maria Corina Machado, who emerged as the winner of the opposition's 2024 presidential primary. Nichols underscored the importance of taking her views into account in the ongoing developments.
The relaxation of sanctions has resulted in a shift of previously illicit oil trade back into the formal sector, including trade with the United States. Nichols noted that Venezuelan oil is once again being sold by trading houses that had previously been customers of the state-owned company PDVSA. While some trade is currently transacted through lesser-known intermediaries, PDVSA's major customers are actively working to reestablish direct trade relationships.
Nichols also highlighted the significance of securing the release of Americans wrongfully detained in Venezuela, emphasizing that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken places great importance on this issue. Savoi Wright, a fourth U.S. citizen held unfairly, has been added to the list of those detained.
The U.S. has implemented several measures to ease sanctions, including issuing licenses authorizing transactions with Venezuela's oil and gas sector and permitting the operations of the state gold mining company Minerven. Furthermore, the prohibition on secondary-market trading of Venezuelan sovereign bonds has been lifted, all in response to an agreement between the government and the opposition concerning the election.
While the specific measures that may be reversed first have not been disclosed, the ongoing discussions reflect the complexities surrounding U.S.-Venezuela relations and the evolving dynamics in the region.