US Democrats Call for Venezuela Sanctions Relief and ‘Direct Dialogue’ with Maduro

The representatives urged the White House to allow crude-for-diesel swaps and “constructively engage” with actors on the ground.


Mérida, August 14, 2021 ( – Nineteen US House Democrats demanded the Joe Biden administration lift “broad and indiscriminate sanctions” against Venezuela and support ongoing dialogue efforts.

“Our government should act urgently to alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people by taking immediate steps to lift the broad and indiscriminate sanctions while supporting internationally mediated dialogue efforts,” read the letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday.

The signatories include Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar of Minnesota (D-MN), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Maxine Waters (D-CA) and the chair of the House Rules Committee, Jim McGovern (D-MA).

Arguing that the former Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Venezuela “has been a total failure,” the lawmakers recalled that the economic sanctions imposed since 2017 “have inflicted greater hardship and suffering in ordinary Venezuelans.”

The letter went on to recommend a new path in US policy towards the South American country, which includes removing “all US financial and sectoral sanctions.” The first measure proposed would reverse “the (October 2020) Trump ban that prohibits Venezuela from exchanging crude oil for diesel, thereby hindering food production and distribution.”

The members of Congress also asked the White House to “engage in direct dialogue” with the Nicolás Maduro government and “with a broader array of political actors.” They suggested approaching “moderate opposition sectors that are not aligned with (self-proclaimed ‘Interim President’) Juan Guaidó and moderate Chavista sectors that are critical of the Maduro government.”

The signatories cited a number of studies that document the consequences of US policies against Venezuela, including a recent US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report which noted that “US sanctions have likely contributed to the country’s steep economic decline.” They additionally quoted a preliminary report issued by UN independent expert Alena Douhan after a 12-day visit to the Caribbean country in February. The document detailed the “devastating” effects of US sanctions.

Likewise, the representatives pointed out the impact of Washington’s coercive measures in blocking Covid-19 relief. “Sanctions continue to deprive the country of the necessary resources with which to effectively combat the pandemic,” they wrote, adding that exemptions for medical goods “do not resolve issues with banking and supply chains.”

The lawmakers concluded that Washington’s continuous support for coup attempts and violent destabilization efforts against Caracas have further strengthened the image of the US as a “bellicose and threatening power.” Instead they argued for “constructive engagement” with actors on the ground.

For its part, the Maduro government has repeatedly called for improved relations with Washington. The administration has also made the removal of sanctions a key demand in the Norway-mediated dialogue with the opposition that kicked off in Mexico on Friday.

The Friday letter adds to the growing calls for sanctions relief coming from the Democratic Party.

In March, a group of representatives and senators headlined by Omar requested that the Biden administration “review” its overall sanctions policy amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. In June, McGovern likewise urged the White House to end “misguided and immoral” sanctions against Venezuela.

Washington has increasingly turned to unilateral coercive measures in recent years in its attempts to overthrow the Maduro government. In 2015, former President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13692 declaring Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to US national security.”

The Trump administration considerably ramped up the US Treasury Department’s sanctions policy, freezing assets and targeting sectors such as banking, mining, food imports and especially the oil industry. The US imposed financial sanctions, an oil embargo, secondary sanctions, as well as a host of other measures meant to cripple Caracas’ main source of foreign income.

The blockade has decimated Venezuela’s oil output, which plummeted from an average of 1.9 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2017 to just over 500,000 bpd presently. Economist Francisco Rodríguez estimated US $17 billion of lost revenue between 2017 and 2019.

US economic aggression has severely compounded an economic crisis that has seen Venezuela’s GDP contract by almost 70 percent since 2013.

Washington’s sanctions have been classed as “collective punishment” and widely condemned by a range of multilateral organizations. United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas has estimated that sanctions caused at least 100,000 deaths until March 2020.

Most recently, a group of UN experts urged the US and allies to withdraw or minimize unilateral sanctions, arguing that they “hold countries back from development.”

“The punishment of innocent civilians must end,” the special rapporteurs stressed in a press release.

Andreína Chávez Alava reporting from Guayaquil, Ecuador, and Ricardo Vaz from Mérida, Venezuela.