Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


Lifting Sanctions on Maduro won’t Lower Energy Costs

Energy costs have risen dramatically around the world as a result of the war in Ukraine. To combat these costs, the Biden administration is considering lifting some sanctions on Venezuela. Lifting them would be a mistake. Sanctions on Nicolás Maduro’s autocratic regime should remain in place until significant democratic reforms take place.

Venezuela was previously the largest oil exporter to the United States. Due to its concerns about the authoritarian Maduro regime, the U.S. sanctioned Venezuela’s oil industry. The Biden administration now believes that lifting these sanctions will increase the flow of oil to the U.S. and subsequently lower energy costs. In doing so, however, the U.S. will appear opportunistic. Also, lifting these sanctions will not lower prices and will impede U.S. efforts to switch to renewable energy sources.

The U.S. applies sanctions to encourage a country to change its behavior. If the U.S. lifts sanctions primarily for its own economic benefit, other nations will see the U.S. as opportunistic and without resolve. Countries around the world will attempt to buy sanctions relief from the U.S. or will simply wait until the U.S. needs their products enough to cave. Maintaining sanctions on Venezuela will demonstrate the U.S. commitment to democracy promotion in Latin America.

Venezuela’s oil output has been declining for years, long before the application of sanctions in 2019. Because of the country’s failing refineries and government mismanagement, Venezuela cannot produce enough oil fast enough to provide significant relief to U.S. consumers. Lifting these sanctions will not lower energy costs but maintaining them could help the Biden administration pursue its climate agenda.

Supporting renewable energy is a key goal of the Biden administration. Lifting the sanctions will only serve to make the U.S. more dependent on foreign oil. Given the lack of progress seen from the Maduro regime, these sanctions should remain, and the Biden administration should use them to encourage growth in the renewable energy sector.

Opponents will argue that if the U.S. never lifts sanctions, countries will lose their motivation to change their behavior. First, the U.S. does lift sanctions, including lifting some recently in Venezuela for humanitarian reasons. Second, Maduro’s motivation to change his behavior depends on his ability to circumvent sanctions, not the sanctions themselves. Iran has sent several oil shipments to Venezuela in the last year. Lifting the sanctions will only demonstrate to other countries that they can operate around U.S. sanctions and must simply tolerate them until U.S. resolve weakens.

With rising energy prices, Americans are facing tough choices to try to make ends meet. The U.S. should not use this as an excuse to sacrifice its principles. Sanctions were placed on Venezuela because of its authoritarian government. Easing them in an attempt to lower energy prices will not work and will hurt our reputation as a democratic leader and protector. We should instead take this opportunity to become a leader in renewable energy. Maintaining sanctions on Venezuela will allow the U.S. to promote democracy globally while pursuing efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which will make us stronger as a nation.