A UN envoy said US and EU sanctions on Venezuela were worsening a humanitarian crisis and recommended that the United States relax the measures, drawing criticism from the country’s opposition, who labelled it on Friday as “regime propaganda”.
Following a 12-day visit, Alena Douhan, a UN special rapporteur focusing on sanctions, recommended in a preliminary report that the sanctions be lifted, and the Venezuelan government be granted access to funds frozen in the US, United Kingdom and Portugal.
Washington in January 2019 sanctioned state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela to try to depose President Nicolas Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse in the once-prosperous OPEC nation and stands accused of corruption, rights violations and rigging his 2018 re-election.
Maduro’s government blames the sanctions for Venezuela’s economic woes. Before blacklisting PDVSA in 2019, Washington in 2015 implemented its first sanctions on top Venezuelan government officials, and in 2017 issued some financial restrictions on PDVSA.
“Unilateral sanctions increasingly imposed by the United States, the European Union and other countries have exacerbated the abovementioned calamities,” Douhan told reporters, recognising that the economic decline started in 2014 with the downturn in oil prices and that mismanagement and corruption also contributed.
Venezuela’s opposition and US officials point out that the country’s economic collapse began before the imposition of economic sanctions, and argued the sanctions are justified because Maduro’s government would more likely use the resources for corrupt ends than to alleviate Venezuelans’ suffering.
“We regret the rapporteur’s imprecisions and the lack of mention of subjects like corruption, inefficiency, political violence and the use of hunger as a tool of social and political control,” Miguel Pizarro, opposition leader Juan Guaido’s envoy to the United Nations, wrote on Twitter.
“That is allowing oneself to be used for regime’s propaganda.”
US Ambassador for Venezuela James Story – who is based in neighbouring Colombia, as the two countries cut off diplomatic ties in 2019 – wrote on Twitter on Thursday that Venezuela’s crisis was due to “the regime’s corruption”, noting that the sanctions exempted humanitarian goods.
With the ascension of US President Joe Biden in January, Maduro is hoping for better relations with Washington, nearly two years after the cutting of formal ties.
He had also urged the pro-government legislature, the National Assembly, to “take initiatives” towards a “new beginning” with Washington.
Maduro, who said he listened to Biden’s inauguration speech “three times”, asked the new US administration to “turn the page … after four years of Trumpist brutality.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described Maduro as a “brutal dictator”, and during his Senate confirmation hearing said he supported Trump’s policy of supporting Guaido.
But analysts believe the Biden administration will take a more moderate stance and will support international mediation for the transition towards a new government.
Guaido earlier wrote that he and his supporters will continue to work towards “Venezuela’s freedom and free elections”.
He said his “ambassador” in Washington was present at Biden’s inauguration.