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.
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
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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