This morning I had the pleasure of moderating an engaging discussion on U.S. sanctions strategy towards Venezuela. I’m very grateful to Risa Grais-Targow, Tamara Herrera, Miguel Angel Santos, and Luis Oliveros for their insight, and the full event is available on YouTube.
While there was some disagreement about the scale of their impact, I was struck by the fact that all participants agreed that U.S. sanctions (and the 2019 oil sanctions in particular) do in fact have some impact on the broader population. There was also broad consensus on the need to recognize that the Venezuelan economy was in a tailspin well before the imposition of the first U.S. sectoral sanctions in 2017, and that the country’s economic crisis has its roots in years of corruption and mismanagement. The final point of consensus was on the need for a clearer U.S. strategy. In recent months the Trump administration appears to have confused “maximum pressure” with its objective, rather than conceiving of sanctions policy as a means to an end.
The word that I heard most often from the panelists was “flexibility.” As a new administration prepares to take office in January, it will be essential that they break from the maximalist approach of the Trump administration and look for new ways to instrumentalize pressure in order to 1.) more effectively contribute to peaceful, democratic solution to the crisis, even if this occurs in incremental steps; and 2.) find ways to alleviate human suffering in a country that is wracked by economic chaos. Doing so won’t be easy, but it is badly needed. For a few ideas on what this looks like, see our latest WOLA report: The Impact of Financial and Oil Sanctions on the Venezuelan Economy.