An Alternative to Maximum Pressure in Venezuela (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By A.J. Manuzzi, Spring 2022 Marcellus Policy Fellow

The continuity of the Trump Administration’s “maximum pressure” policy towards Venezuela into the Biden Administration has failed to generate meaningful political change while prolonging and exacerbating humanitarian suffering and sabotaging intra-Venezuelan negotiations. The current policy, characterized by the pursuit of regime change through crushing economic sanctions, clashes fundamentally with the fact that the United States cannot solve Venezuela’s internal problems, which themselves do not pose a security threat to the U.S anyway.

U.S. sanctions have been counterproductive by every measure. The government of dictator Nicolás Maduro is no closer to falling than it was at the outset of the sanctions campaign, and indeed the sanctions themselves give him a powerful boogeyman to fan nationalistic flames and consolidate power. Additionally, the Venezuelan people are no freer than before the sanctions. Millions of Venezuelans have been hurt economically by the sanctions and millions more have fled the country amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, maximalist U.S. demands have impeded negotiations involving countries impacted by the Venezuela crisis.

The U.S. must recognize that maximum pressure is undermining its strategic goals and reproducing civilian material deprivation. American policy should abandon unrealistic preconditions and the equally unrealistic economic regime change policy, empower regional countries with a greater stake in the crisis, and provide a safe haven for Venezuelan migrants fleeing the crisis. To this end, Washington should terminate its recognition of former National Assembly president Juan Guaidó’s increasingly unpopular opposition government and use its leverage over the opposition to compel it to abandon its unrealistic request that Maduro step down as a precondition to negotiations. The Biden Administration should also be prepared to lift many of the sectoral sanctions against Venezuela and reverse the current ban on diesel fuel swaps to mitigate food and energy insecurity. Furthermore, the U.S. should encourage regional partners like the Organization of American States (OAS), Colombia, and Mexico, as well as other regional countries with closer ties to Venezuela (such as Cuba) to take on a larger role in negotiating a political settlement. Finally, when Venezuelans flee their country to the U.S., the Administration should continue to support measures that protect them from deportation like Temporary Protected Status (TPS).