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Venezuelans could soon receive some relief amid a long political crisis


The people of Venezuela could soon receive some relief amid a long political crisis. The government of embattled President Nicolas Maduro and its opposition over the weekend agreed to establish a U.N.-managed humanitarian fund. As much as $3 billion in frozen Venezuelan assets could go toward medicine, food and other aid for the country's citizens. Now, in response, the U.S. eased some oil sanctions on the country. It is a significant development four years after a widely disputed election in which Maduro declared himself the winner. For more on this, we turn to Jason Marczak. He's the senior director of the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. All right. First, get us up to speed. Why were these talks taking place to begin with?

JASON MARCZAK: Well, these talks are taking place right now because of the fact that Nicolas Maduro has decided to return to the negotiating table a year after he left the negotiating table. These negotiations in Mexico City originally were set to take place last year. When the U.S. extradited one of Maduro's close associates, Alex Saab, for money laundering, Nicolas Maduro pulled out of the negotiations. The negotiations that started this weekend in Mexico City are actually the result of months of secret talks in Caracas to be able to reestablish these negotiations, which included the announcement this weekend not just of the negotiations but, as mentioned, the humanitarian agreement that would be administered by the United Nations.

MARTÍNEZ: When it comes to the sanctions the Biden administration is lifting, some of the oil sanctions on Venezuela, does that mean that years of their sanctions have not worked?

MARCZAK: Well, what it means is that the sanctions are meant to force change in a particular government or entity. And these sanctions, the oil sanctions in particular, the Chevron sanctions, have been meant to force action on the part of Maduro. The lifting of the sanctions of the oil - limited oil sanction lifting this past weekend will allow for Chevron to begin to export oil only into the United States. It does not authorize the payment of any taxes or royalties to the government of Venezuela itself.

But what it also shows is that sanctions - it shows Maduro that sanctions can be lifted if he takes the right actions to be able to alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Now, of course, there's many other sanctions that remain in place. There's five other categories and multiple sanctions that date back to 2006. So the hope is that by lifting these initial sanctions, it'll show Maduro that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel. And it'll force additional action from Maduro that helps with the Venezuelan people's suffering. But at the same point, these sanctions can also be immediately snapped back at any point if Maduro does not comply with the terms that were outlined this past weekend.

MARTÍNEZ: So aside, Jason, from going back to the negotiating table, what other actions does Maduro have to do?

MARCZAK: Well, the negotiating table has to produce results. And that is absolutely key because Maduro has historically used negotiations to stall without any intention of agreement. I'm hopeful that this time might be different. What is looked for at this point is looking to the 2024 elections. These are going to be incredibly consequential presidential elections. And one of the key aspects of the negotiations is to get Maduro to agree to the basic tenets of a free and fair election so that the opposition parties actually have a chance of being able to compete fairly in that election.

MARTÍNEZ: So we're talking 100% transparency, openly monitored. That's what is the goal for 2024?

MARCZAK: Yes. And not just transparency, but also allowing political parties and politicians and civil society and others to actually participate in the electoral process. Problem is, most of the opposition politicians have fled the country in the last few years, along with the 7 million other Venezuelans, because if they stay in the country, they risk being locked up in jail, isolated from their loved ones for years. And so it's not just about the transparency of the elections, but it's actually about leading up to the elections and providing the conditions for the opposition to actually be able to participate.

MARTÍNEZ: Maduro's word hasn't been one where anyone could really trust it, Jason. So what would change? What makes the Biden administration think that that could change this time around?

MARCZAK: Well, what's absolutely fundamental is not just Maduro's word. What's actually fundamental is verifiable implementation of any agreement that is made at the negotiations in Mexico City.

MARTÍNEZ: By verifiable, what does that mean?

MARCZAK: It means that there is independent commissions that are helping...


MARCZAK: ...To ensure that anything that is agreed - whether it's the humanitarian funding, ensuring that the money that was administered by the United Nations is able to actually reach the Venezuelan people, or that any agreement with regard to the elections is actually monitored by independent monitoring bodies and independent election observation.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Jason Marczak, senior director of the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. Jason, thanks.

MARCZAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.