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An End To Venezuela Sanctions? The Lula Factor In Biden's Democratization Gamble

The Biden administration's exploration to lift sanctions on Venezuela, hoping to gently push its regime back on the path of democracy, might have taken its cue from Brazilian President Lula's calls to stop demonizing Venezuela.

Photo of a man driving a motorbike past a wall with a mural depicting former President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela

Driving past a Chavez mural in Caracas, Venezuela

Leopoldo Villar Borda


BOGOTÁ — Reports last month that U.S. President Joe Biden's apparent decision to unblock billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets, frozen since 2015 as part of the United States' sanctions on the Venezuelan regime, could be the first of many pieces to fall in a domino effect that could help end the decades-long Venezuelan deadlock.

It may move the next piece — the renewal of conversations in Mexico between the Venezuelan government and opposition — before pushing over other obstacles to elections due in 2024 and to Venezuela's return into the community of American states.

I don't think I'm being naïve in anticipating developments that would lead to a new narrative around Venezuela, very different to the one criticized by Brazil's president, Lula da Silva. He told a regional summit in Brasilia in June that there were prejudices about Venezuela — and I dare say he wasn't entirely wrong, based on the things I hear from a Venezuelan friend who lives in Bogotá but travels frequently home.

My friend insists his country's recent history is not quite as depicted in the foreign press. The price of basic goods found in a food market are much the same as those in Bogotá, he says.

He goes to the theater when he visits Caracas, eats in restaurants and strolls in parks and squares. There are new building works, he says. He uses the Caracas metro and insists its trains and stations are clean — showing me pictures on his cellphone to prove it.

Good news for Venezuela

But my friend has also criticized the devastating effects of U.S. sanctions, which have curbed the activities of public and private firms and are starkly evident in the reduced number of cars. He says people still enjoy traditional pastimes and diversions and there is security, both in the capital's wealthy districts and in working class neighborhoods like the 23 Enero.

It's nice to hear there is another side to the country.

Such words are music to the ears of any Venezuelan who knew Caracas in its heyday (in the 1970s and 80s), at the height of the oil boom and in a democracy that flourished after the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez. It's a world away from the dismal storyline that has been dominant, as Lula observed, under the last two socialist presidents, the late Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro.

It's nice to hear there is another side to the country, just as Colombia had a positive side long hidden by the endless story of crime and violence. We too suffered for years for the shoddy treatment given us, indifferently being viewed as drug peddlers due to characters like Pablo Escobar.

Then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro crossing paths in Brasilia in 2015

Miguel Angulo/Xinhua/ZUMA

Ending sanctions

An end to sanctions is good news for Venezuela and its neighbors, as it will help restore normality to a region facing too many problems. The only question perhaps is why the United States waited so long to take this step. The simplistic perspectives on Venezuela, fuelled by interested sectors who did the same with Colombia, will soon become history.

The version given by those who never sympathized with Chávez was of a country ruined by socialism over 20 years, even if it was only partially true. It never took stock of external factors like sanctions. We should bear in mind that these began by targeting the oil industry, the heart of Venezuela's economy, which isn't unlike stabbing a victim in the throat!

The problem with absolute affirmations, whether it be those used to denounce Bolivarian Venezuela or beforehand, to dismiss a Colombia facing down the drug cartels, is that they are closer to half-truths. And precisely, not being entirely devoid of truth makes them more deceptive overall. As Brazil's Lula puts it, these are narratives built up against the evidence, and therefore, not far from being lies.

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How WeChat Is Helping Bhutan's Disappearing Languages Find A New Voice

Phd candidate Tashi Dema, from the University of New England, discusses how social media apps, particularly WeChat, are helping to preserve local Bhutanese languages without a written alphabet. Dema argues that preservation of these languages has far-reaching benefits for the small Himalayan country's rich culture and tradition.

A monk in red performing while a sillouhet of a monk is being illuminated by their phone.

Monk performing while a sillouheted monk is on their phone

Source: Caterina Sanders/Unsplash
Tashi Dema

THIMPHU — Dechen, 40, grew up in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Her native language was Mangdip, also known as Nyenkha, as her parents are originally from central Bhutan. She went to schools in the city, where the curriculum was predominantly taught in Dzongkha, the national language, and English.

In Dechen’s house, everyone spoke Dzongkha. She only spoke her mother tongue when she had guests from her village, who could not understand Dzongkha and during her occasional visits to her village nestled in the mountains. Her mother tongue knowledge was limited.

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However, things have now changed.

With 90% of Bhutanese people using social media and social media penetrating all remotes areas in Bhutan, Dechen’s relatives in remote villages are connected on WeChat.

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