Latin American Leverage

On September 2, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met with opposition leaders in Mexico City with the aim to ease the nation’s ongoing political and economic crisis. Each side brought its own goals to the negotiating table, with the hope that this set of talks would succeed where others have failed. The opposition hopes to advance their aim of political liberalization by negotiating the release of political prisoners, as well as secure a guarantee from Maduro for representation in the upcoming November elections. Maduro’s regime hopes that participation in these talks will end the financial sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe, offering Venezuela some economic relief.  

Maduro’s regime has faced criticism from the international community for its human rights violations and government crackdowns on political opposition. The collapse of the Venezuelan economy has forced millions of refugees to flee. The United States and Europe have imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela, targeting its state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., in particular. In the face of opposition from Western democracies, the Maduro regime has received support from China, Cuba, Iran, and Russia, who are eager to expand their influence in the region. Maduro’s agreement to meet with opposition leaders reveals that his regime may finally, if only reluctantly, be giving into international pressures. The United States is not present at these discussions in Mexico City, but the Biden administration has publicly expressed its openness to lifting some restrictions if progress is made. The question remains, however, whether the economic sanctions have induced Maduro’s regime to pursue a path towards greater political freedom. 

Questions and Background

  • To what degree should the United States reinvest in its interests in Latin America?
  • Were the economic sanctions imposed by the United States and E.U. effective? Given that they worsened the hardship of the Venezuelan people, were the sanctions justified? Were there policy alternatives to sanctions? 
  • Should the United States support the opposition more actively? Is the Maduro regime trustworthy, or is it likely to renege on any pledges made in Mexico City?

Take Two: Venezuelan Government, Opposition Return to Mexico for Talks
Diego Oré. Reuters. September 2, 2021. 

Latin America is Slipping Back into Strongman Rule
Hal Brands. American Enterprise Institute. June 30, 2021.

The Biden Administration and Venezuela 
Elliott Abrams. Council on Foreign Relations. March 9, 2021. 

BACKGROUNDER: Venezuela: The Rise and Fall of a Petrostate
Amelia Cheatham and Rocio Cara Labrador. Council on Foreign Relations. January 22, 2021. 

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