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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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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

What Are Iran's Real Intentions? Watch What The Houthis Do Next

Three commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea were attacked by missiles launched by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, while the U.S. Navy shot down three drones. Tensions that are linked to the ongoing war in Gaza conflict and that may serve as an indication as to Iran's wider intentions.

photo of Raisi of iran speaking in parliament

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in Tehran.

Icana News Agency via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — It’s a parallel war that has so far claimed fewer victims and attracted less public attention than the one in Gaza. Yet it increasingly poses a serious threat of escalating at any time.

This conflict playing out in the international waters of the Red Sea, a strategic maritime route, features the U.S. Navy pitted against Yemen's Houthi rebels. But the stakes go beyond the Yemeni militants — with the latter being supported by Iran, which has a hand in virtually every hotspot in the region.

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Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the Houthis have been making headlines, despite Yemen’s distance from the Gaza front. Starting with missiles launched directed toward southern Israel, which were intercepted by U.S. forces. Then came attacks on ships belonging, or suspected of belonging, to Israeli interests.

On Sunday, no fewer than three commercial ships were targeted by ballistic missiles in the Red Sea. The missiles caused minor damage and no casualties. Meanwhile, three drones were intercepted and destroyed by the U.S. Navy, currently deployed in full force in the region.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for these attacks, stating their intention to block Israeli ships' passage for as long as there was war in Gaza. The ships targeted on Sunday were registered in Panama, but at least one of them was Israeli. In the days before, several other ships were attacked and an Israeli cargo ship carrying cars was seized, and is still being held in the Yemeni port of Hodeida.

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