Venezuela: Gov’t Rejects US Ultimatum, Demands Permanent Sanctions Removal

Caracas reaffirmed that the Barbados accord does not include enabling banned opposition leaders to run in the 2024 presidential vote.
President Nicolás Maduro says there is a national consensus against US sanctions. (X: @PresidencialVen)

Caracas, November 30, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government has urged the US government to lift all sanctions against the country, while also denying any violations of the Barbados agreement

The stance came in response to a November 30 deadline set by Washington for Venezuelan authorities to lift political bans on Venezuelan opposition leaders. US officials threatened to reverse recent relief measures otherwise.

“Venezuela as a whole, by consensus, demands that all sanctions against its economy be permanently lifted and that we begin a new era of relations based on respect and collaboration between the United States and Venezuela,” voiced President Nicolás Maduro on Wednesday during a meeting with representatives of different economic sectors in Caracas.

Maduro emphasized that there is a unanimous rejection of US sanctions among all political, religious, economic, cultural, and social sectors of Venezuela. Additionally, he announced that the country has experienced nine consecutive quarters of economic growth.

Since 2017, Washington has targeted every sector of the Venezuelan economy, especially the oil industry, the country’s main source of foreign revenue, which was put under financial sanctions and an export embargo. Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA remains in an uphill battle to recover production.

However, Caracas saw some relief on October 18 when Washington lifted certain measures against the country’s oil, gas, gold, and banking sectors, some of them temporarily. This decision, taken in the context of the US global energy concerns, followed an electoral agreement signed between the Maduro government and the US-backed opposition in Barbados.

The Barbados Accords laid out conditions for the 2024 presidential vote, including “the right of each political actor to select its candidate for the presidential election freely and according to its internal mechanisms” while explicitly stating that the process will be held “per the [Venezuelan] Constitution and the law.”

The agreement, however, did not lift any bans on opposition politicians currently barred from holding political office nor did it establish a deadline for the government to act on the matter.

On October 22, several US-backed political organizations held a primary election that yielded a resounding victory for far-right politician María Corina Machado, who has a 15-year ban from holding political office for her role in regime-change efforts. The primary process was also mired in controversy for alleged manipulation of turnout figures, with the Electoral Branch of the Venezuelan Supreme Court suspending the election and ordering a probe after a motion brought forward by opposition lawmaker José Brito.

But Machado’s victory fueled US officials’ pressure with Juan González, the White House’s chief Latin America advisor, claiming that Washington had set November 30 as the deadline to reinstate banned opposition candidates or else sanctions relief would be reversed. The threat had been issued before by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

On Thursday, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby noted that they had seen “no progress” in their demands to the Maduro administration, including the release of US citizens jailed in the South American country, but would not “get ahead” of any decisions regarding sanctions.

With the supposed deadline approaching, the opposition’s chief negotiator Gerardo Blyde at the Barbados dialogue table clarified that US officials’ statements referred to a “procedure” that should be announced for opposition politicians to regain their ability to run in the upcoming presidential election.

“What the [US] State Department meant and what is contained in the Barbados agreement, is that between today and tomorrow (November 29-30), a procedure must be notified that provides the mechanism for the qualification either of María Corina Machado or of any other Venezuelan who aspires to be president,” Blyde told reporters on Wednesday.

However, in his political commentary TV program transmitted every Wednesday, United Socialist Party (PSUV) high-ranking leader Diosdado Cabello denied Blyde’s allegations and said that there was no procedure in the Barbados accords to enable banned opposition politicians to participate.

“That is not going to happen because it does not depend on the government, it is the institutions that make decisions here in Venezuela,” stressed Cabello, who had previously assured that María Corina Machado would not be a presidential candidate in 2024 despite Washington’s constant pressure and blackmail. The bans against holding public office are under the purview of the Comptroller General’s Office.

The Venezuelan government’s dialogue delegation did not comment on Blyde’s statements.

For her part, Machado recently tweeted she would not “fall into distractions” and that she was focused on building a “citizen force” to defeat Maduro.

Besides the far-right politician, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles from the Primero Justicia party and Freddy Superlano from the far-right Voluntad Popular party are also barred from running for office. Neither participated in the opposition’s primary contest with Capriles arguing that that he does not expect his ban to be lifted and would support a candidate that can take part in elections.

Economic analysts have argued that Washington does not intend to reimpose sanctions and that the US Treasury Department’s six-month oil and gas license would most likely be renewed in April. This responds to the US interest to increase crude supplies in the future as well as multinational corporations’ already signing long-term contracts with Caracas to invest in joint ventures and expand crude production.