The United States government began on Monday to relax the sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump on Venezuela, allowing companies to export propane gas to the South American country, an action that could mitigate the shortage that has caused people to cook with charcoal or firewood.
The long-awaited policy shift by the government of President Joe Biden towards Venezuela was announced at a time when the government of President Nicolás Maduro has begun to allow international aid to enter the country and has taken other measures to signal that he is willing to dialogue with Washington.
The rule issued by the US Treasury Department authorizes non-US companies to export liquefied petroleum gas to Venezuela without risking sanction. The authorization is valid for one year.
“Obviously it is a humanitarian gesture towards the Venezuelan government because in the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, people are cooking with wood or in wood stoves instead of with propane gas,” said Russ Dallen, managing partner of Caracas Capital Markets.
However, the US measure was announced on the same day that opposition leaders claimed to have been the target of Maduro’s security forces. “The timing couldn’t have been worse” for Washington, Dallen said.
In a statement, the Venezuelan opposition accused the security forces of trying to detain opposition leader Juan Guaidó. The bloc said security forces also arbitrarily detained former legislator Freddy Guevara.
Guaidó told reporters from the basement of his home in Caracas that members of the Venezuelan security forces intercepted his vehicle and threatened to arrest him. He said that the agents “pointed long weapons at us” and ordered him to open the doors of the vehicle, but then withdrew amid protests from neighbors.
“The intimidation has never stopped us,” said Guaidó, who is considered by the United States and dozens of other countries as the legitimate president of Venezuela and has previously negotiated humanitarian aid.
The Venezuelan government did not respond to requests for comment on the sanctions.
The Treasury Department has previously relaxed other measures, such as the licensing of six teams from the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League so that Major League Baseball players could participate in the local tournament, and the issuance of other licenses that allow the Central Bank of Venezuela may carry out some transactions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Venezuela’s attorney general, Tarek William Saab, tweeted a statement that does not address Guaidó’s accusations, but notes that Guevara was detained “due to his ties to extremist and paramilitary groups associated with the Colombian government.”
“This citizen who has had a public record in participating in acts of violence in the past, will be charged with the crimes of terrorism, attack against constitutional order, conspiracy to commit a crime and treason,” according to the statement.
In September, Guevara left the Chilean ambassador’s residence in Caracas after receiving a presidential pardon along with several other members of the opposition. He had taken refuge in the embassy since 2017, when he and dozens of opposition lawmakers faced charges for leading violent protests.
Julie Chung, Acting Undersecretary of the US Department of State’s Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs, criticized Venezuela for recent acts against the opposition.
“We strongly condemn the arrest of Venezuelan Congressman Freddy Guevara and the threat against interim President Juan Guaidó in Venezuela,” Chung tweeted. “We urge the international community to also condemn these acts and demand the release of all those detained for political reasons.”
During the government of former President Donald Trump, the United States imposed sanctions that sought to isolate Maduro. These restrictions have made it difficult for Venezuela to produce, sell or transport its oil, which is the mainstay of its economy.
Despite the measure adopted Monday by the Biden government, several very tough sanctions remain in effect, which keeps Venezuela in a situation of strangulation. The European Union has also imposed sanctions.
A UN report issued last week noted that the sanctions add to the problems of Venezuela, which is mired in a deep political, social and economic crisis attributed to falling oil prices and two decades of mismanagement by of socialist governments. The South American nation has been in recession for years. Millions of people live in poverty with high food prices, low wages, and hyperinflation.
“Venezuela is facing an extreme shortage of liquefied petroleum gas, which most Venezuelans use for cooking,” the US Treasury Department said in a statement.
“Although Venezuela has historically been able to meet consumer demand through domestic production, years of mismanagement by the Maduro regime and Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) have contributed to the current shortage. In an effort to promote a short-term solution to this problem, the Treasury is issuing this limited-time authorization for the export of liquefied petroleum gas.”
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.