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United States to Reactivate Sanctions on Venezuela Thursday without Electoral Progress

Unless Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro takes immediate steps to ensure free and fair elections this year, the United States will reimpose sanctions on the South American country’s energy sector starting next Thursday. On that date, April 18, the six-month license that reduced these sanctions expires and, as the State Department reiterated this Monday, Washington does not plan to renew it if it does not see progress in fulfilling Maduro’s promises regarding the presidential elections scheduled for July 28.

“In the absence of progress by Maduro and his representatives in implementing the provisions of the roadmap, the United States will not renew the license when it expires on April 18,” a department spokesperson said, quoted by the agency Reuters.

Washington has little hope that there will be a last-minute turnaround in the Venezuelan position. Representatives of both governments met last week in Mexico to discuss the sanctions days before the deadline, without any apparent progress being made.

One of the options being handled by the Biden Administration, which is trying to maintain a difficult balance to punish Maduro without taking measures that precipitate a flood of economic migrants to the United States, is to approve a new, stricter license. In any case, a return to the “maximum pressure” policy applied during the mandate of Republican Donald Trump (2017-2021), which unleashed a wave of asylum applications from Venezuelans on the southern US border, is not desired.

According to Reuters, one of the steps being studied is to allow Venezuela to continue selling its crude oil on the world market, but not authorize the use of US dollars in such operations.

Last October, the Government of President Joe Biden lifted various sanctions on Venezuelan oil and gas for a period of six months, to convince Maduro to comply with the Barbados agreements, signed between Chavismo and the opposition, for holding free elections. The condition for extending the license was that Caracas allowed all non-Chavista candidates to run.

But the main opposition leader, María Corina Machado, was disqualified by the electoral authorities, without international protests having changed the situation. The first option to replace her, Corina Yoris, is also not allowed to run for president. Faced with repeated blockades, the Unitary Platform that brings together the main opposition parties has ended up presenting Edmundo González Urrutia on an interim basis.

Washington had already pointed out in January that, if there were no changes in Maduro’s attitude, the license that allows Venezuela to sell its oil and gas to international companies would not be extended. Then, the White House statement made by the spokesman for the National Security Council, John Kirby, unleashed a wave of criticism from Chavismo, which considered the warning a form of blackmail.

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