by Olivia Smith
What you can do:
- Educate yourself about the situation in Venezuela, here is a summary provided by the World Report: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/venezuela
- You can read about all of the recent executive orders pertaining to Venezuela to understand the United States’ current policy stance on the situation: https://www.state.gov/venezuela-related-sanctions/
- Continue to watch and understand President Biden’s approach to the situation.
In 2013, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro narrowly won the election against his opponent Henrique Capriles. The election ended with Capriles demanding a full recount, marking the beginning of Maduro’s long and controversial presidency . Within the same year of his election, the growth of the Venezuelan economy steadily slowed as global oil prices fell. Inflation climbed to over 50%, and common products such as milk, flour, and toilet paper became increasingly difficult to obtain . Maduro seemingly avoided responding to these issues by instead focusing on border disputes and deporting Columbian immigrants out of the country . Discontent with Maduro’s regime became obvious, as students took to the streets to protest. Government forces responded to protests with violence, and the international community began accusing Maduro of committing human rights violations as the death counts at these protests rose .
In 2015, shortly after Maduro’s election, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order (E.O.) 13692 for the first time with the goal of sanctioning specific figures within Venezuela in order to advance the safeguard of human rights guarantees, safeguard democratic institutions, and protect the U.S. financial system from the illicit financial flows from public corruption . Sanctions are actions taken by a country or organization against another country, such as refusing to trade with it, in order to force it to obey a law or a set of rules . The E.O. specifically did not want to target the people or the economy of Venezuela, but instead sanctioned seven figures who were deemed by the Department of Treasury and State to be in direct violation of the goals stated in the E.O. . Some of the people sanctioned included Antonio José Benavidas Torres, a commander of various armed forces, who committed several human rights violations when approaching the anti government protests of 2014; and Gustavo Enrique González López, a director of the intelligence service and the president of the center of security was found to be associated with the surveillance of Venezuelan opposition leaders . Despite these efforts, authoritarian tendencies persisted within the country, and with recent questionable actions committed by the Maduro regime, President Joe Biden resigned this executive order, declaring Venezuela in a state of emergency .
In 2018, President Maduro ran again in a second election surrounded by controversy, prompting Biden to resign the executive order in 2021, therefore allowing him to continue sanctioning public figures with the goals of restoring the democratic process and preventing human rights violations. The election was controversial because, to start, voter turnout was extremely low, with more than half of the voters not casting ballots . Additionally, it is hard to even know whether this small percentage of votes are even legitimate, as authorities eliminated the requirement that voters dip a finger in indelible ink, which is used to keep people from voting multiple times . Electoral authorities furthered the questionable legitimacy of the election by banning the largest opposition political parties from participating in the election, as key politicians were barred from running . Further weakening the opposition parties, electoral authorities also changed the election date. Normally held in December, the date was moved up to May, giving parties less time to campaign and organize .
In response, in 2019, Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, declared himself to be the interim president due to the political instability surrounding the election . However, Maduro continued to control all institutions except for the legislative branch – powers that are not usually permitted and seemingly advancing his own influence and control throughout the country. In 2020, Maduro supporters won two-thirds of seats in the National Assembly in elections held on December 6, which were boycotted by the majority of opposition parties and in which less than one third of registered voters participated. As a result, many governments from the region and Europe declared that the elections had not met minimum guarantees to be considered free and fair, calling into question Maduro’s definition of the democratic process .
The political instability within Venezuela, negatively affects the citizens living there. In September, a data-collecting mission conducted by the United Nation Human Rights Council (HRC) found high-level authorities responsible for what they deemed to be crimes against humanity . The HRC declared the government of Maduro and its security forces responsible for extrajudicial (not legally authorized ) executives, short-term forced disappearances, jailed opponents, prosecuted civilians in military courts, tortured detainees, and crackdown on protestors. Additionally, the HRC accused Maduro of using a Covid-19 induced state of emergency as an excuse to punish dissent and intensify control over the population . Because of the questionable political legitimacy, along with the human rights violations, the Venezuelan democratic process is called into question. Maduro’s actions lead to the United States’, among many other neighboring countries’, refusal to recognize the legitimacy of his reelection, therefore prompting action from President Biden and the international community to withhold funding to the country.
Currently, President Biden maintains the more aggressive approach that President Trump’s office took. Known as a maximum pressure campaign, as Maduro’s regime became more authoritarian, Trump imposed more sanctions . Some of these sanctions included the restriction of the ability of the government and the PdVSA (Venezuela’s state-run oil and natural gas company) to access U.S. financial markets and the prohibition of U.S. purchases of Venzuelan debt . Right before the president’s departure from office, Trump announced a sweeping round of stiff financial sanctions that target a network accused of moving oil on behalf of Venezuelan President Maduro’s alleged frontman in an attempt to address corruption . Simultaneously, the administration announced the provision of $39.5 million in assistance for Venezuelans who fled to other countries. As of now, President Biden maintains this hardline approach, as he has not repealed any of Trump’s actions. .
While some analysts encourage President Biden to maintain this approach, others ask that he remove broader sanctions that hurt the Venezuelan people without hastening Maduro’s departure . Although this approach makes sense, it may prove challenging to determine which sanctions affect solely Maduro, leaving Biden with a hard question: how can he incentivize Maduro to respect human rights and democracy (or vacate the presidential position), while keeping the Venezuelan people’s best interests in mind? With mass migration out of the country into the neighboring countries of Colombia and Brazil, the International Monetary Fund estimating that the inflation rates in Venezuela may reach 13,000 percent, and the current soaring prices combined with shortages of basic goods, it will be interesting to see both President Biden’s and President Maduro’s next moves .