It’s Time to Abandon Venezuelan Oil Sanctions
The journey through the Darién Gap’s unforgiving jungle is a harrowing reality for families escaping Venezuela’s chaos. Alone, children face the looming threat of trafficking. Men abandon their families, uncertain if they will ever see them again. These stories are the lived experiences of Venezuelans, compelled to flee by a relentless crisis.
As Venezuela’s political and economic catastrophe deepens, U.S. sanctions, though rooted in a response to the erosion of democracy and human rights under Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, are exacerbating the country’s economic plight. This well-intentioned policy is unwittingly driving millions to leave in sheer desperation. To alleviate the migrant outflow, the United States needs to recalibrate its approach, easing sanctions to permit the Venezuelan oil industry to reconnect with the American financial system.
The U.S. attempt to force Maduro from power through sanctions has stumbled. Far from crippling his regime, the sanctions have, paradoxically, allowed Maduro to strengthen his grip as the legitimate opposition stumbles. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan populace endures the brunt of the suffering: their oil-reliant economy has faltered, leading to rampant food insecurity and abject poverty, and leaving them with no choice but to seek sustenance elsewhere, often in the United States. This migration surge is straining our already fragile immigration system, fueling domestic political unrest, and giving rise to populism.
The sanction strategy employed in Venezuela echoes the ineffective policy that failed to dislodge the Castro regime in Cuba. The resemblance is uncanny, not least in the resultant mass migrations. It is unreasonable to expect Venezuelans to remain amid such chaos and deprivation. It is fundamentally unfair to mete out collective punishment for the sins of their autocratic leaders.
Modifying the sanctions to revitalize the oil industry, while retaining targeted sanctions against Maduro and his allies, could pave the way for an improved quality of life within Venezuela. With the oil sector’s resurgence, Venezuelans could return to their jobs. Economic revitalization could mean the difference between life and death in such an impoverished nation. When presented with opportunities at home, people are less likely to flee. A prospering populace may also forge a more formidable front against Maduro’s autocratic government, shifting their focus from daily survival to challenging the corrupt regime.
Furthermore, relaxing sanctions could serve to diminish the influence of China and Russia in the region. At present, these adversarial powers are the principal investors in Venezuela. By allowing Venezuela access to American petrodollars and financial investment, the appeal of these other foreign powers would decline. The United States has a vested interest in limiting Chinese and Russian presence in the Western Hemisphere; easing sanctions could serve this strategic objective.
Additionally, there are compelling financial reasons to soften sanctions. Venezuela has been a long-standing oil provider to the United States, and reestablishing this symbiotic relationship could be seamlessly beneficial. Amidst the continuing global repercussions of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, Venezuelan oil could contribute to the stability of the U.S. energy market, resulting in economic gains for American companies and consumers.
Some may argue that easing sanctions would inadvertently provide a financial boon to the Maduro regime. Contrary to this viewpoint, the continuation of strict personal sanctions would ensure that Maduro and his inner circle remain penalized for their human rights violations and anti-democratic actions. The U.S. government is capable of maintaining stringent controls against money laundering and exploitation, ensuring that policy adjustments do not compromise accountability.
The Biden administration has signaled a progressive shift by authorizing Chevron to renew certain operations in Venezuela. This is a commendable step, but it is only the beginning. The extent of suffering in Venezuela calls for more comprehensive action. With a judicious change in policy, we have the potential to convert the current narratives of despair into historical accounts. Such a policy realignment could feed the starving, empower the marginalized, and revive the spirits of the forlorn. It is a moral imperative for the United States to act—to protect those in peril and to truly honor its proclaimed values.