US, EU, Canada Impose Conditions for Possible Sanctions ‘Review’

Washington and its allies demanded Caracas show “meaningful progress” in talks with Guaidó and upholding “international standards for democracy.”

By Paul Dobson
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell share a platform in Brussels in March. (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell share a platform in Brussels in March. (Reuters)

Mérida, June 28, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The United States, European Union and Canada have announced a series of conditions Venezuela must meet in order for them to “review” their sanctions regimes.

The move is the first joint effort by the three powers to publicly pressure the Latin American country. It is likewise the first time the Biden administration has broken with his predecessor’s rhetoric and hinted at a potential policy change, while also backtracking on previous claims that “irreversible changes” from Caracas were necessary for sanctions relief.

In a declaration signed on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell and Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau committed to “review” unilateral coercive measures should the Nicolás Maduro government demonstrate “meaningful progress” in a “comprehensive negotiation” with the opposition. Rumors of talks between both parties have increased in recent weeks, with the Norwegian government touted to repeat its 2019 mediation role.

In the statement, the global powers also demanded that “international standards for democracy” be implemented in both the upcoming November 21 local and regional elections as well as new parliamentary and presidential elections. The foreign policy representatives went on to call for the “unconditional release” of detained opposition activists, the “independence” of political parties, freedom for the press and an end to “human rights abuses.” The Maduro administration has often blasted attempts at meddling in its internal affairs, and defended it’s human rights record, political plurality, rule of law and press freedoms.

The letter offered no further details on what “meaningful progress” in talks or “international standards for democracy” may look like for Brussels, Ottawa and Washington. Analysts have frequently questioned the US’ own democratic credentials following disputed elections and the Capitol Hill raid this year.

Equally, no details were offered concerning how far any potential sanctions “review” may go, but the statement did call for “unfettered access” to be granted to a range of vital goods.

Guaidó sends team on international tour as EU weighs electoral delegation

The joint declaration came days after Washington received a delegation from Venezuela’s self-declared “interim president” Juan Guaidó, whom the US continues to recognize as the country’s head of state.

The agenda of the talks was not disclosed, but the opposition man has previously stated that his team ̶ which is now in Brussels ̶ looks to “seek support” and conditions for a “progressive” lifting of sanctions. For his part, Guaidó described Friday’s US-EU-Canadian declaration as “very positive.”

The statement also followed Maduro’s offer to hold talks with the White House last week. The Venezuelan president has set sanctions relief as a precondition for any dialogue both with the US and Guaidó, while Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called on Washington to “reflect” and “correct” last week.

While the Biden administration continues to recognize Guaidó, Brussels and a number of Latin American nations softened their stance towards Caracas recently by backtracking on their 2019 decision in favor of the opposition front man.

In a further conciliatory step, the European bloc announced last week that it is to send an “exploratory delegation” to Venezuela to assess organizing an accompaniment team for November’s elections, in which more than 100 political parties are due to elect over 500 public officials.

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), which has repeatedly invited the EU to witness the country’s elections, welcomed the planned delegation, which is due to touch down on July 6. The EU has consistently rejected the CNE’s invitation to observe elections, later going on to claim the processes ̶ including the 2018 presidential and 2020 parliamentary votes ̶ suffer from unspecified and unproven “irregularities” which allegedly undermined their transparency and reliability. In contrast, independent on-the-ground electoral missions have endorsed Venezuela’s mixed electoral system as one of the world’s most transparent and reliable.

EU non-recognition of Venezuelan elections has laid the groundwork for the European body to follow the US and Canada in slapping Venezuela with a range of sanctions since 2017. These sanctions were extended by another year in November 2020.

For its part, the US first landed sanctions against Venezuela in 2014, with financial restrictions against the country coming in 2017. These measures were significantly ramped up by the Trump administration in 2019-20 and now prevent US companies or individuals from any trade with Caracas. They also establish an embargo on the key oil industry and have paved the way for Venezuelan assets abroad to be confiscated, frozen or seized. The US Treasury has additionally levied a range of secondary sanctions against Russian, Chinese, Argentinean and other non-US firms.

The blockade has been rapturously denounced by international bodies, with a chorus of voices including the United Nations, Red Cross and the Vatican calling for sanctions relief during the Covid-19 pandemic. Last month, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Sanctions Alena Douhan described the unilateral measures as “illegal” and “devastating” following a visit to the country. Douhan went on to demonstrate the hardships the blockade imposes on the population, including in Covid-19 vaccine and fuel access.

A growing number of voices in Washington are likewise calling on Biden to break with his predecessor’s stance, with several representatives penning letters to the White House this year.

While Biden has so far resisted the pressure, his government did issue a special license to supposedly allow US firms to trade materials and equipment needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic with Venezuela earlier this month.

The special license was met with skepticism by Caracas, with Arreaza stating that “It’s very probable that this license won’t be worth much in reality as the international financial system has a panic attack when it sees Venezuela’s VEN [currency] sign.”