The governments of the US and Venezuela are reportedly poised to announce a deal that could pave the way for sanctions relief on the economically wrecked South American country and for banned opponents of President Nicolás Maduro to compete in next year’s election.
Anonymous sources quoted by two US media outlets said a scaling back of sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry would be announced on Tuesday after Maduro officials restarted talks with opposition negotiators in Barbados.
The news agency Bloomberg called the move – which comes on the eve of an opposition primary to choose a candidate to challenge Maduro – “the first major political concession by the government of Nicolás Maduro in a decade”.
The Washington Post claimed Venezuela’s authoritarian leader “would agree to a process for lifting bans on opposition candidates running [in the 2024 presidential election] … though it is not clear how quickly that process would take place”.
“The US is likely to put a time limit on any sanctions relief so that it could be reversed if Maduro didn’t comply with his end of deal,” the newspaper added.
Norway’s foreign ministry announced on social media that Venezuela’s government and opposition would meet in the Barbadian capital, Bridgetown, on Tuesday to “restart the dialogue and negotiation process” which broke down in November last year.
Maduro took power after the death of his mentor, Hugo Chávez, in March 2013 but has led their country into a devastating economic and humanitarian slump that has seen millions of citizens flee overseas. He became an international pariah following Venezuela’s 2018 election, which was widely denounced as a fraud.
In 2019 Maduro survived an international campaign to unseat him, backed by scores of western governments including those of Donald Trump’s US and Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, as well as Germany, Spain and the UK. That campaign was spearheaded by a young opposition politician called Juan Guaidó, who flew into exile in the US in April this year after his bid to topple Maduro collapsed.
Other prominent Maduro rivals remain in Venezuela, including María Corina Machado and Henrique Capriles, but both have been banned from seeking election.
Polls suggest Machado, a ferocious Maduro critic and former congresswoman, will win Sunday’s primaries, which is being held in the hope of finding a single candidate behind which Venezuela’s notoriously fractured opposition can unite. It was not immediately clear how the purported deal with the US might affect her ability to stand for the presidency.
“Whoever wins the primary will be my candidate but we still don’t know if they are going to remove the disqualifications [of candidates,” Capriles told El País last week after pulling out of the race. “It’s a sea of uncertainty.”
Ties between Caracas and Washington have been slowly warming since early 2022 when senior US officials flew to Venezuela for rare talks with their Venezuelan counterparts. The Biden administration’s decision to re-engage Maduro after years of ostracism was widely attributed to the desire to lure the country away from Moscow after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and find alternatives for Russian oil imports. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves.