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Biden reinstates sanctions on Venezuela

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Biden administration has reimposed sanctions on Venezuela's vital oil industry just six months after lifting them. The move came as Venezuela's authoritarian regime cracks down on the opposition ahead of the country's presidential election. Reporter John Otis has more.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Last October, the U.S. and Venezuela cut a deal. At a meeting in Barbados, Venezuela agreed to take steps towards holding a free and fair presidential election. In exchange, the U.S. lifted crippling oil sanctions that had been in place since 2019. An election has been scheduled for July 28. However, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's authoritarian president, has continued to oppress his opponents, says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas think tank in Washington.

ERIC FARNSWORTH: The Maduro regime did not live up to its obligations under Barbados.

OTIS: Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, who polls predict would beat Maduro in a free election, remains disqualified from the race. Government critics and members of Machado's campaign team have been jailed. Meanwhile, the regime has blocked millions of Venezuelans from registering to vote. Francisco Rodriguez, a Venezuelan who teaches international studies at the University of Denver, says the election is shaping up to be a farce.

FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: It is the most undemocratic election that Venezuelans have had to face in their history since this country became a democracy in 1958.

OTIS: On Tuesday U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller gave Maduro a final warning.

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MATTHEW MILLER: We have made very clear that if Maduro and his representatives did not fully implement their agreements under the Barbados agreement, we would reimpose sanctions.

OTIS: Just 24 hours later, the U.S. government announced it would put sanctions back in place against Venezuela's oil industry. These measures make it illegal for U.S. companies to sign new agreements with the Venezuelan state oil company, unless issued a waiver by the Treasury Department. The brief period of sanctions relief provided a boost for the Maduro regime. Venezuela could once again sell oil at market prices instead of through middlemen at discount rates. Last month Venezuelan oil exports hit a four-year high. Still, the windfall was not enough to convince Maduro to allow a Democratic opening, says Ryan Berg, a Venezuela expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

RYAN BERG: The frustrating part for most of us is that not much by way of U.S. policy seems to induce behavior change either way, neither maximum pressure nor sanctions relief.

OTIS: The problem for Maduro is that he would likely lose a free election. And should he leave office, Maduro could end up in jail on U.S. charges of drug trafficking and corruption. However, in a speech hours after the sanctions were reimposed, Maduro said Venezuela would not buckle to U.S. pressure.

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PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "They think we're scared," Maduro said. "But neither sanctions nor threats will damage our efforts to build a new economy for Venezuela." For NPR News, I'm John Otis.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY OF THE SUN'S "NASCOSTO NEL MONDO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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