US Sanctions Obstructing Humanitarian Aid in Venezuela, New Report Finds

A US Government and Accountability Office report found that sanctions have pushed the Venezuelan economy into crisis.


Merseyside, UK, February 10, 2021 ( – A report by the US Government and Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded that US sanctions have deepened the Venezuelan economic crisis and hampered the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Released on February 8, the report was compiled in response to a request by former Democrat Representative and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel and fellow committee-member Andy Levin. It focuses on the impact of US sanctions on the Venezuelan economy, and in particular on the country’s oil industry.

The 56-page document found that although the Venezuelan economy had already been contracting, it had “fallen steeply since the imposition of US sanctions starting in fiscal year 2015”.

“The sanctions, particularly on the state oil company [PDVSA] in 2019, likely contributed to the steeper decline of the Venezuelan economy, primarily by limiting revenue from oil production,” the report concludes.

The US government first imposed sanctions against Venezuela in 2015 under President Barack Obama, who declared Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security. Unilateral measures were expanded and intensified under the Trump administration (2017 – 2021). Treasury sanctions included cutting off Venezuela from international financial markets, banning the refinancing of its debt and the repatriation of revenue from abroad, as well as the implementation of an embargo on Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA at the beginning of 2019.

According to the report, Venezuela’s economic growth fell from -6.2 percent GDPR in 2015 to -35 percent GDPR in 2019, corresponding with the onset of the sanctions.

It also found that the sanctions had made it difficult for US partner organizations to administer and deliver humanitarian aid in the country – despite the US government repeatedly claiming that measures would not hamper food and medicine imports, or “target innocent Venezuelans.”

“All nine USAID implementing partners we spoke with reported instances of banks closing their accounts or delaying or rejecting transactions due to concerns over U.S. sanctions,” the document states.

The researchers likewise noted that “banking difficulties such as these can hamper partners from accessing and routing the funds they use in Venezuela to implement programs and conduct operational activities, such as paying personnel and importing supplies”.

The partner organizations told the report’s authors that US sanctions were also “indirectly” exacerbating fuel shortages in the country – leading to increased blackouts and transport problems.

For its part, the Venezuelan government has consistently blasted the sanctions as a crime against humanity – even filing a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court in early 2020. Multilateral organizations, including the United Nations, have likewise criticized US coercive measures.

Responding to the publication of the report on Monday, the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) – which has consistently monitored the impact of the sanctions – said that the investigation corroborated its own findings and called on the Joe Biden administration to immediately reverse its predecessor’s policy.

“This report from the GAO offers more evidence that these unilateral, illegal US sanctions are a form of collective punishment against the Venezuelan population and should be ended immediately,” stated CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot. “There is no reason to allow this crime from the Trump administration to continue.”

For its part, the incoming administration has ruled out dialogue with the Maduro government and pledged to make sanctions “more effective.”

In April 2019, the CEPR released its own report which estimated that more than 40,000 Venezuelans had died as a result of the sanctions between 2017 – 2018, prior to the 2019 oil embargo and later measures.

“An economic collapse of this magnitude, in a country that is already unable to import sufficient medicines, will result in many excess deaths,” Weisbrot noted.

In its own recommendations, the GAO suggested that the US Treasury should begin to collect and systematise data on humanitarian enquiries from partner organizations in order to “identify trends and recurrent issues.”

Trump administration officials often indicated that the purpose of sanctions was to bring about regime change through economic strangulation.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in 2019 that “the circle is tightening. […] You can see the increasing pain and suffering.” For his part, former US ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield argued for harsher sanctions against PDVSA in 2018, stressing the need to “accelerate the collapse” of the Venezuelan economy, while recognizing it would “increase suffering for months or even years.”

Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.