This morning I spoke with Venezuelan journalist Vladimir Villegas on his streaming platform, Vladimir a la Carta (see video above). As I told him, I do not believe the recent Caracas visit by U.S. diplomats suggests the U.S. will unilaterally lift sanctions in Venezuela. As the Biden administration signaled in a February 16 joint statement with the European Union and 19 other countries, any sanctions relief will be based on “meaningful progress in the framework of [the] Venezuela-led negotiations.” In other words, Maduro would have to make democratic concessions. 

The Memorandum of Understanding that Maduro and the opposition agreed to in the 2021 Mexico talks lays out a clear, seven-point agenda for negotiations. Among the benchmarks are guaranteeing political rights for all, restoring the rule of law, electoral reforms, reparation for victims, and advancing the economic welfare of the population. The parties also signed a declaration committing to create a joint working group that would use frozen funds to address Venezuela’s humanitarian emergency. However, all of this stalled when the government stood up from the table in October.

“Meaningful progress” in the Mexico City framework could include implementing this humanitarian working group. In another sense, meaningful progress could also include advances on issues related to other agenda items, such as the release of over 200 political prisoners in Venezuela or by suspending Administrative Ruling 002-2021, a regulation aimed at criminalizing civil society and closing civic spaces. This could include moving forward with credible investigations and trials against officials accused of crimes against humanity, in accordance with the terms of an agreement signed with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Or it could include the justice reform recommendations of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, or the reforms proposed by the EU Electoral Observation Mission. 

In any case, so far the Biden administration has signaled that reforms are needed for sanctions to be eased. Any changes to this policy should ensure a focus on restoring democratic institutions and the fundamental human rights of the Venezuelan people.