US Congressman Urges Biden to Lift Venezuela Sanctions, Restore Diplomatic Ties

Jim McGovern (D-MA) demanded Washington expedite the unfreezing of a $3 billion social fund agreed to in the government-opposition talks.

Caracas, January 26, 2023 ( – US Democratic representative and chair of the House Rules Committee, Jim McGovern, sent a letter to President Joe Biden requesting the removal of sanctions against Venezuela for violating human rights.

“The [Biden] administration should assess the humanitarian and human rights impact of all sanctions imposed on Venezuela and seek to lift any whose principal effect, intended or not, is to undermine the livelihoods and well-being of the millions of people who have stayed in the country,” read the letter addressed to the White House.

The representative from Massachusetts stressed that the most important measure to lessen Venezuela’s economic crisis “is to provide as much relief as possible from the sectoral and secondary sanctions imposed as part of Trump’s egregiously wrong ‘maximum pressure’ campaign.”

McGovern stated that the recent sanctions waiver authorizing Chevron to carry out limited transactions with Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA is “an important start, but only that.” The license issued on November 26 allows the US corporation to pump and sell Venezuelan oil in joint ventures for a six-month period, with at least four shipments already sent to US refineries this month.

The high-ranking US congressman’s letter echoes an earlier request “to stop using the well-being of the Venezuelan people as a bargaining chip in the pursuit of foreign policy goals.” In the May 2021 missive, Mcgovern also urged the removal of the “immoral and misguided sanctions” against Venezuela.

For more than five years, Venezuela has been under a wide-reaching sanctions program imposed by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to trigger regime change. The measures have been classified as “collective punishment” by human rights experts and condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Council for their humanitarian consequences, including a nutrition and health crisis that has caused the death of tens of thousands of Venezuelans.

Following financial sanctions against PDVSA in August 2017, the US Treasury Department imposed an oil embargo in January 2019, effectively cutting off the country’s main source of income.

Besides the oil industry, US sanctions have targeted virtually all sectors of the Venezuelan economy, including mining, banking, and international trade. Washington has likewise enforced extraterritorial and secondary sanctions against third parties, shipping companies and other intermediaries trading with Caracas and blocked or frozen a host of Venezuelan assets abroad. According to the Venezuelan government, Washington and its allies have seized between US $24-30 billion.

In a 2021 report, UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan explained that secondary sanctions had led to “over-compliance by banks and third-country companies,” amplifying the negative impact of primary sanctions. The Belarusian lawyer added that Washington’s “humanitarian exemptions” to its unilateral coercive measures were “ineffective and insufficient” to alleviate the Venezuelan crisis.

In Thursday’s letter, McGovern likewise welcomed Washington’s support for the resumption of talks between the Nicolás Maduro government and the US-backed opposition in Mexico and praised the agreement to release $3 billion to create a social fund, managed by the United Nations, to address the Venezuelan people’s basic needs.

However, the House Democrat representative expressed concern over Biden’s lack of effort to expedite the transfer of Venezuelan resources to the UN fund.

“Your administration must urgently do its part to implement the agreement for the benefit of the Venezuelan people [which] will require multilateral coordination with the United Nations as well as other sanctioning countries” as well as “greater coordination and flexibility” from the US State and Treasury Departments.

The US congressman requested Biden to urgently communicate a “realistic timeframe” for the release of the Venezuelan assets with the Maduro government and the opposition in order to incentivize the continuation of talks, “which have currently stalled as the parties await greater clarity on the issue.”

On January 18, Venezuelan National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez warned that the Mexico-based talks could face an imminent end unless the resources were made available soon, blaming the hardline opposition for the delay.

For its part, the opposition chief negotiator Gerardo Blyde rejected the ultimatum and said the process would take time because the money “is in different jurisdictions with distinct technical and judicial problems that need to be dealt with individually.”

According to Reuters, opposition representatives met with US officials in Washington last week to discuss strategies to move the resources in small amounts in order to protect them from creditors looking to collect on debts owed by the Venezuelan state. In recent years, the US economic blockade has restricted the Maduro government from meeting international financial obligations.

Concerning the diplomatic standoff between Washington and Caracas, US representative McGovern asked Biden to take steps to improve relations in order to normalize migration and facilitate the participation of Venezuelans in the 2024 presidential elections.

In his letter, McGovern encouraged the Biden government to “reconsider reopening consular activities and eventually the US embassy in Venezuela while permitting the Maduro government to do the same in the United States.”

In 2019, Caracas broke off diplomatic relations with Washington after the latter recognized opposition figure Juan Guaidó as “interim president.” Recently, the right-wing sector replaced Guaidó with a new leadership which the US immediately recognized.

The White House has not issued a response to McGovern’s latest request for Venezuela sanctions relief and the reestablishment of diplomatic ties. Similar addresses issued by US House Democrats in February and August 2021 also went unanswered.