The US has indicated a readiness to reinstate sanctions on Venezuela’s crucial oil industry if the South American country’s opposition is not permitted to contest the 2024 presidential election against President Nicolás Maduro.
The development follows the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a ban on María Corina Machado, the principal opposition figure for the election.
Originally, the US sanctioned Venezuela’s oil sector when President Nicolás Maduro commenced his second term in 2019, following an election widely condemned for lacking freedom and fairness.
However, in October 2023, the US eased these sanctions after the Maduro Government and the opposition reached an agreement in Barbados.
The agreement aimed to establish the conditions for free and fair presidential elections in the latter half of 2024.
Subsequent to the agreement, the US Treasury granted a temporary licence, allowing certain transactions with Venezuela’s oil and gas industry.
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Speaking to reporters, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that the Biden administration is prepared to revoke the previously granted sanctions if the country fails to conduct a “free and fair election”.
The US State Department has also expressed its readiness to reimpose sanctions on transactions with Venezuela’s oil and gas sector, a critical source of revenue for the country.
It has set a deadline of 18 April 2023 for progress in talks between Maduro and the opposition.
Miller said: “There is still time for the Maduro regime to change course. There is still time for them to allow a free and fair election. We are hopeful that that is what they will do, but if they do not, we are prepared to implement our sanctions.”
In retaliation, the Venezuelan Government has threatened to halt the acceptance of deportation flights for Venezuelan migrants in the US who lack proper documentation.
In a post on X, Venezuela’s Vice-President, Delcy Rodriguez, said: “All of Venezuela rejects the rude and improper blackmail and ultimatum expressed by the US government. As of 13 February, repatriation flights for Venezuelan migrants would be immediately revoked, and any existing cooperation mechanism would be reviewed as a countermeasure to the deliberate attempt to strike a blow to the Venezuelan oil and gas industry.”