Mexico City, Mexico, January 30, 2024 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The US reimposed select sanctions on Venezuela, with White House officials threatening a further snap back of limited sanctions relief after the Supreme Court upheld a ban on presidential hopefuls.
On Monday, The US Treasury Department revoked a previous license allowing transactions with Venezuelan state-owned gold mining firm Minerven, effective immediately, allowing only for a winddown of operations.
The announcement from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) was followed by a statement from State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller who warned that limited sanctions relief the Caribbean nation’s energy sector approved in October of last year would not be renewed come April.
“In response to anti-democratic actions by Maduro representatives, the United States has revoked sanctions relief for Venezuela’s gold sector. The relief for Venezuelan oil and gas sectors will be renewed in April only if Maduro representatives follow through on their commitments,” wrote Miller.
The decision by the Biden administration comes as a response to a decision by the Venezuelan Supreme Court rejecting opposition politician María Corina Machado’s challenge to her disqualification from holding public office.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro responded to US threats Monday night, reminding Washington and the US-backed opposition that the process that saw Machado’s disqualification upheld was negotiated and agreed upon by the parties, with the opposition representatives having recommended that disqualifications be reviewed by the country’s highest court.
Caracas issued a statement on Tuesday rejecting “Washington’s neocolonial meddling.”
“The latest blackmail efforts constitute an ultimatum against the entire Venezuelan society […] to destabilize the people’s well-being,” it read.
Sanctions relief came in October 2023 following the signing of the Barbados Accords that established conditions for the upcoming presidential vote, set for this year. Government and opposition representatives subsequently agreed to allow politically disqualified candidates to appeal their cases before the Supreme Court.
Machado had first refused to submit her eligibility before the country’s highest court, arguing that her ban was nonexistent, before eventually relenting and submitting an appeal. In its ruling, the court pointed to Machado’s alleged participation in corruption schemes headed by former self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó, as well as the hardline opposition’s actions endangering Venezuelan foreign assets.
The hard right politician’s embrace of Washington’s numerous regime change efforts in Venezuela, including insurrections, coups and mercenary invasion plots, has made her candidacy a redline for the Maduro government.
“Mr. Brian Nichols: What would the United States government do if an American politician proposed that Russia and China invade the United States? The penalty for that politician would be life imprisonment Mr. Nichols!” wrote National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez on social media in response to US Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols.
Machado, who overwhelmingly won the opposition’s primary process last October, has fervently maintained that she would not step aside in favor of another opposition figure under any circumstance.
“There is no retreat. We have a mandate and we will complete it,” Machado said during a press conference following the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Instead, the far-right former lawmaker has continuously signaled that she is relying on US pressure as a means of securing her place on the ballot.
“The one who has the capacity so far to generate incentives is the United States Government. And they have been very emphatic that if [this condition] is not met, the licenses will be reverted,” Machado told El País in November.
Juan González, the White House’s chief Latin America advisor, has repeatedly said that the Biden administration was willing to use a potential snap back of sanctions as a means to try to coerce Caracas. However, González’s claim that Washington was not involved in negotiations between the Venezuelan government and opposition was betrayed by the White House reimposing sanctions in support of Machado.
Washington and Caracas are at odds concerning the scope of the Barbados Accords.The agreement does not compel the government to lift Machado’s disqualification, despite State Department claims to the contrary.
The document, titled “Partial Agreement on the Promotion of Political Rights and Electoral Guarantees for All,” instead specifies that parties be allowed to choose their candidates and that they be allowed to run insofar as they comply with the Venezuelan Constitution and laws.
National Assembly President and lead government negotiator Jorge Rodríguez announced over the weekend that Caracas had accepted Norway’s offer to mediate the differences between the government and the opposition over the Barbados Accords. The Maduro government has likewise pointed at alleged violent plots as undermining dialogue.
Despite the threats from the State Department, it is still not clear that Machado’s exclusion will lead to a return of oil and gas sanctions come April. Analysts have claimed that the US’ sanctions policy toward Venezuela is likely to be determined by geopolitical interests, in particular Washington’s interest in keeping oil prices stable, rather than any purported defense of democracy.
The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Machado’s ban puts anti-government forces at a crossroads. Her insistence that she represent the opposition in presidential elections this year could result in the hardline opposition bloc once again boycotting the vote and reigniting violent street protests.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.