CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – The US government on Monday began to ease the crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on Venezuela by allowing companies to export propane to the ailing South American country, a move that could ease a shortage which prompted people to cook on charcoal or wood-burning grills.
The Biden administration’s long-awaited first reversal of policy towards Venezuela comes as the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro began authorizing foreign aid to the country and took further steps to signal its readiness to engage with Washington.
US Department of the Treasury regulations allow non-US companies to export liquefied petroleum gas to Venezuela without risking sanctions. The authorization is valid for one year.
“It is obviously a humanitarian gesture towards the Venezuelan government because in the country which has the largest oil reserves in the world, people cook with wood on wood stoves rather than with propane,” said Russ Dallen. , Managing Partner of Caracas Capital Markets.
But the US move was announced the same day opposition leaders claimed they had been targeted by Maduro’s security forces. “The timing couldn’t have been worse” for Washington, said Dallen.
Maduro’s opposition in a statement accused the armed security forces of seeking to arrest leader Juan Guaidó. The bloc said security forces also arbitrarily detained a former congressman.
Guaidó told reporters from the basement of his residence in Caracas that members of the Venezuelan security forces had intercepted his vehicle and threatened to stop it. He said officers “pointed long guns” at the vehicle and ordered it to open the doors, but then withdrew amid protests from neighbors.
“Bullying has never stopped us,” said Guaidó, who is viewed by the United States and dozens of other nations as Venezuela’s rightful leader and has already negotiated humanitarian aid.
The Venezuelan government did not respond to requests for comment on Guaidó’s sanctions and charges.
Julie Chung, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, criticized Venezuela for the latest acts against the opposition.
“We strongly condemn the arrest of Venezuelan Congressman @FreddyGuevaraC and the threats against Acting President @jguaido in Venezuela,” she said on Twitter. “We urge the international community to join us in condemning these acts and demanding the release of all those detained for political reasons.
Under President Donald Trump, the US government imposed crippling sanctions aimed at isolating Maduro. These restrictions have made it difficult for Venezuela to develop, sell or transport its oil – the backbone of its economy. The European Union has also imposed sanctions.
A UN report released last week noted that the sanctions are adding to the problems in Venezuela, which is mired in a deep political, social and economic crisis attributed to falling oil prices and two decades of mismanagement by the socialist governments. It has been in recession for years. Millions of people live in poverty amid high food prices, low wages and hyperinflation.
“Venezuela faces extreme shortages of LPG, which the majority of Venezuelans depend on to prepare their meals,” the US Treasury Department said in a statement. “While Venezuela has historically been able to meet consumer demand through domestic production, years of mismanagement by the regime of Maduro and Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA) have contributed to the current deficit. In an effort to promote a short-term solution to this problem, the Treasury is issuing this time-limited authorization for the export of LPG.
Garcia Cano reported from Mexico City.