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1 Dec, 2023 22:52

US threatens to ‘pause’ sanctions relief for Venezuela

The White House has warned that Caracas must make more progress in releasing “political prisoners” to avoid being punished again
US threatens to ‘pause’ sanctions relief for Venezuela

US President Joe Biden’s administration has warned that it may soon halt sanctions relief for Venezuela unless the oil-rich nation makes more progress in meeting Washington’s demands for the release of “political prisoners” and detained American citizens.

At stake is a relaxing of sanctions, announced in October, that eased US restrictions on trading of Venezuelan oil, natural gas, gold and government bonds. In return, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government was given a November 30 deadline to release jailed politicians and begin lifting bans on oppositional presidential candidates for the country’s 2024 election.

With that deadline now passed, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday that US officials were pleased by an announcement that opposition candidates who had been barred from public office would be allowed to appeal their cases to Venezuela’s highest court. “We are, however, deeply concerned about the lack of progress on the release of wrongfully detained US citizens and Venezuelan political prisoners,” he said.

As a result, US officials will engage with Caracas in “diplomatic efforts on those particular issues,” Kirby added, “and we’re prepared to take action in the coming days to pause certain sanctions relief, unless further progress is made.”

A Venezuelan court sentenced two former American soldiers to 20 years in prison for their alleged roles in a 2020 coup plot to capture Maduro. Then-US President Donald Trump denied that Washington had any involvement in the alleged conspiracy, then imposed a sweeping round of additional sanctions against Caracas just days before leaving office in January 2021.

Venezuela issued an arrest warrant in October for the exiled US-backed opposition politician Juan Guaido. After being elected president of Venezuela’s National Assembly in 2019, Guaido declared Maduro’s reelection fraudulent and was declared the country's interim leader by the opposition-controlled parliament. The same year, Guaido called for a popular uprising against Maduro, which ultimately failed. He is currently living in Miami under US protection.

Maduro reportedly called on Wednesday for a “new era” of US-Venezuelan relations “based on respect and collaboration.” He added that Venezuela demands the permanent lifting of all US sanctions against the country, and he claimed that Caracas had abided by the so-called Barbados agreement, under which sanctions were eased in October.