The Biden administration ends the exemption from sanctions on Venezuelan oil

Six months after US sanctions were lifted on Venezuela's main oil and gas sectors, the Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it would allow those temporary licenses to expire, saying the Maduro government had not kept its side of the bargain.

This deal was clear and explicit – Maduro and the united Venezuelan opposition signed an agreement in Barbados last October to hold free and fair elections, monitored by international observers, and in exchange for that, the United States temporarily lifted some of the sanctions it had imposed on Venezuelan oil, gas, gold, and petroleum facilities. Sovereign debt.

It was a bold move and a gamble — and a stark departure from former President Donald Trump's “maximum pressure” campaign — with Biden officials saying they hoped engaging strongman Maduro would help find a political solution to end unrest in Venezuela that has driven a fifth of its population to flee — which More refugees than in the wars in Syria or Ukraine.

But in the months that followed, Maduro's government harassed and arrested opposition figures and barred opposition candidate Maria Corina Machado, who won a landslide in the primary, from running for president.

A senior administration official claimed at a press conference that Maduro had met some “key obligations,” but pointed to those actions as ways his government had “failed” — which is to say the least.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress have urged the administration to put those sanctions back in place, as Maduro has clearly shown no desire to hold elections that polls consistently indicate he would lose in a landslide.

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But the administration is shaken here as it also looks to domestic priorities — like the price of gas and the crisis at the border. Venezuelans have contributed to a surge on the southern border that has overwhelmed Border Patrol agents and become a political albatross for Biden, while gas prices have risen 14% in the past year, according to AAA data obtained by ABC News.

In March, Venezuela's oil exports rose to their highest level since early 2020 as customers rushed to complete purchases ahead of the move – a move the Biden administration warned against last March – a final warning that Maduro once again ignored. But Venezuelan oil production has been low for years due to “years of underinvestment and mismanagement,” according to a report issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration last fall.

While the United States is regaining the largest portion of its leverage – oil and gas sanctions – after a 45-day hiatus, this is not the end. The senior administration official told reporters that they “will continue to engage in a constructive, private, and practical way to try to return the elections toward a better path,” adding, “We will watch and watch very carefully.”

For his part, Maduro told Biden publicly this week that he was ready to negotiate: “I will never close the door to dialogue with anyone. I send the following message to the negotiators and to President Biden,” he said during a press conference — before speaking awkwardly in English: “You You want, I want, you don't want, and I don't want either.”

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Most importantly, the opposition will not give up the fight. Machado was barred from running, but two opposition parties were able to submit their nominations, and one of their candidates said he would allow Machado to take his seat. He has a long history with the opposition and is often seen as two-timing or untrustworthy, but after today's meeting, the two sides agreed to try to work together to put forward a candidate to run against Maduro.

There are many barriers ahead, including barriers to voting for Venezuelans abroad — many of whom are likely to oppose the president they fled — and as the United States reimposes sanctions, Maduro may impose more barriers. But the opposition asserts that it is “united to change Venezuela.”

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