On March 8, WOLA Senior Fellow and Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations at Tulane University David Smilde published an op-ed in Foreign Policy assessing recent reports of talks between the Biden administration and the Maduro government to negotiate a potential deal to facilitate the exportation of Venezuelan oil, as well as the release of U.S. citizens detained in Venezuela, as Biden prepared to announce a ban on U.S. imports of oil from Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine. The op-ed comes a few days after it was reported that a delegation of U.S. officials traveled to Caracas to meet with Maduro and other relevant actors, marking the first time the U.S. has held a high-level meeting with the Venezuelan government in over five years. Smilde argues that these meetings present an opportunity for U.S. negotiators to push Maduro on human rights issues and encourage progress at the negotiating table in Mexico City.

As Smilde writes:

Since the Biden administration has already assumed the political costs for this effort, it should now follow through and make sure they bear fruit. It would be good for U.S. negotiators to focus not just on prisoner release but also on broader human rights issues, such as improving electoral institutions, stopping the judicial persecution of opposition politicians, and ceasing harassment of journalists and activists. While economic sanctions like those on oil should be negotiated, individual sanctions on regime officials who have committed grave human rights violations or other crimes should continue.

Getting a commitment from the Maduro government to return to the Mexico talks is an important success. Getting its commitment to make progress there would be even more important. The Maduro government has developed a modus operandi of using dialogue as a nonbinding substitute for the democratic institutions it has undermined. Getting Maduro to commit to a road map for negotiations—with benchmarks for humanitarian improvements, restoring the rule of law, and an election calendar—could spur the return to democracy Venezuelan citizens have been struggling for.

Read the full Foreign Policy op-ed here.