Jorge Rodriguez, President of the Venezuelan Congress, participated in preliminary talks between the South American country’s officials and President Biden’s government regarding the possible temporary lifting of US economic sanctions on Venezuela. AFP Photos/Mathias Delacroix
Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) — The administration of U.S. President Joseph R. Biden is in talks with Venezuela to consider temporarily lifting economic sanctions in exchange for allowing fair elections next year.
Senior officials from both countries are participating in the initial discussions, including the head of Venezuela’s Congress, Jorge Rodriguez, according to people familiar with the process, who requested anonymity.
Washington has floated the idea of easing sanctions to persuade President Nicolas Maduro’s regime to hold competitive presidential elections in 2024 and release political prisoners. The sanctions worsened Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis by hampering oil sales, although they failed in their original goal of ousting Maduro.
Maduro, suspected of embezzling state funds and coercing voters, will have to make significant concessions to reach an agreement with the United States that allows him to lift some or all of the sanctions, even temporarily. The leader has not yet set a date for the vote or invited foreign observers.
Most of the restrictions were implemented by the administration of President Donald J. Trump, who has taken a hard-line approach toward Maduro’s government.
“Maduro is very resistant to holding competitive elections,” said Risa Grace Targo, an analyst at Eurasia Group.
“We expect Maduro to run for a third term next year,” Grace Targo added. “He may be willing to consider small concessions, but anything that leads to a truly fair vote is very risky, given the costs of losing power.”
In previous elections, Maduro’s government took advantage of its almost complete control over the South American country’s media to grant itself media time and campaigning. He also sets up checkpoints near voting centers on election day to reward government supporters with bags of food, a tactic a not-so-subtle reminder that his government is monitoring who votes. In more recent cases, the government has resorted to disqualifying opposition candidates such as Maria Corina Machado.
“If Venezuela takes concrete steps to restore democracy and hold free and fair elections, we are prepared to ease corresponding sanctions,” Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said in a written response to various questions.
Any agreement will come at a critical time, as Venezuela will soon announce a new electoral council to supervise the elections.
The ongoing talks are separate from the official talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, which have been suspended since last November, mediated by Norway.
Venezuelan presidential press officials and Jorge Rodriguez did not respond to requests for comment.
The Biden administration also has practical and humanitarian reasons for wanting to see a resolution to the economic and political crisis in Venezuela. More than seven million of the country’s citizens have left the country in the past decade, many making the dangerous journey thousands of miles north through Central America and Mexico to the U.S. border.
More than 50,000 people have traveled to the United States since October as part of the parole process, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.
Venezuelan immigrants constitute an important voting bloc in Florida, a state that has often played a pivotal role in determining the presidential winner of elections in recent decades. Trump won the state in 2020, wooing those voters by criticizing socialism. State Governor Ron DeSantis is seeking to become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.