Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations
April 28, 2021
The crisis in Venezuela has deepened under the authoritarian rule of Nicolás Maduro,
who has consolidated power despite presiding over a dire economic and humanitarian
Clare Ribando Seelke,
crisis worsened by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Maduro,
narrowly elected in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chávez (president, 1999-2013), and the Specialist in Latin
United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) took de facto control of the National
American Affairs
Assembly, the last independent branch of government, in January 2021. Maduro has

resisted U.S. and international pressure to step down and an opposition led by Juan
Rebecca M. Nelson
Guaidó, the National Assembly president elected in 2015 and once regarded as interim
Specialist in International
president by nearly 60 countries.
Trade and Finance

Venezuela’s economy has collapsed. The country is plagued by hyperinflation, severe
Rhoda Margesson
shortages of food and medicine, and a dire humanitarian crisis that has further
Specialist in International
deteriorated as a result of gasoline shortages, COVID-19, and U.S. sanctions. Maduro
Humanitarian Policy

has blamed sanctions for the economic crisis, but many observers cite economic
mismanagement and corruption as the main factors. U.N. agencies estimate 5.6 mil ion
Phillip Brown
Venezuelans have fled the country as of April 2021.
Specialist in Energy Policy

U.S. Policy

The U.S. government ceased recognizing Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate president in January 2019. Although
the Administration of former President Donald Trump initial y discussed the possibility of using military force in
Venezuela, it ultimately sought to compel Maduro to leave office through diplomatic, economic, and legal
pressure. Officials in the Administration of President Joe Biden have stated that the Administration’s approach
toward the crisis in Venezuela wil focus on supporting the Venezuelan people and engaging in multilateral
diplomacy to press for a return to democracy and to hold Maduro officials and supporters accountable for their
actions. On March 8, 2021, the Biden Administration designated Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS),
after President Trump ended removals of Venezuelans eligible for Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) on January
19, 2021. Biden Administration officials also are reviewing the humanitarian impacts of U.S. sanctions.
Congressional Action
Congress supported the Trump Administration’s efforts to promote a restoration of democracy in Venezuela
without the use of military force and to provide humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans, although some Members
expressed concerns about the humanitarian impact of sanctions. In December 2019, Congress enacted the
Venezuela Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance, and Development Act of 2019 (VERDAD Act; P.L. 116-94,
Division J) a comprehensive bil to address the crisis in Venezuela. In the FY2020 National Defense Authorization
Act (NDAA; P.L. 116-92), Congress prohibited the Department of Defense from contracting with persons who do
business with the Maduro government. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260), provided not
less than $33 mil ion in Economic Support Funds for democracy programs in Venezuela and an unspecified level
of humanitarian support for countries sheltering Venezuelan refugees. The 117th Congress may examine policy
approaches by the Biden Administration and further legislative options, such as additional sanctions against the
Maduro government and its enablers or additional humanitarian assistance. S.Res. 44, reported by the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee on March 24, condemns the December legislative elections and cal s for free and
fair presidential and legislative elections in Venezuela.

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Introduction ................................................................................................................... 1
Political Situation............................................................................................................ 1

Background .............................................................................................................. 1
Maduro’s Second Term: 2019-Present........................................................................... 4
Human Rights ................................................................................................................ 6
Economic Crisis.............................................................................................................. 8
Humanitarian Situation and Response .............................................................................. 11
Displacement .......................................................................................................... 11
COVID-19 Pandemic ............................................................................................... 13
U.N. Humanitarian Response Plan in Venezuela ........................................................... 14
International Humanitarian Regional Response Plan ..................................................... 14

International Actors in Venezuela’s Crisis ......................................................................... 14
U.S. Policy................................................................................................................... 17
U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela ..................................................................................... 19
Petroleum Sector Concerns and U.S. Economic Sanctions ............................................. 21
Oil Sector Sanctions and Evolving Petroleum Trade Relationships ............................. 22
Oil Market and Price Effects ................................................................................ 24
Petroleum Sector Outlook.................................................................................... 25
Temporary Protected Status for Venezuela ................................................................... 25
U.S. Assistance ....................................................................................................... 26
Humanitarian Assistance (Including COVID-19 Assistance) ..................................... 26
Democracy, Development, and Global Health-Related Assistance .............................. 27
U.S. Efforts to Combat Il icit Revenue Sources ............................................................ 28
Counternarcotics and U.S. Antidrug Prosecutions and Operations .............................. 29
Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture ................................................................ 30
Il egal Mining .................................................................................................... 31
Human Trafficking ............................................................................................. 31
U.S. Concerns About Terrorism ................................................................................. 32
Outlook ....................................................................................................................... 33

Figure 1. Political Map of Venezuela .................................................................................. 2
Figure 2. Venezuela’s Economic Crisis: Selected Trends ....................................................... 9
Figure 3. Venezuelan Migrants and Asylum Seekers: Flows to the Region and Beyond ............ 12
Figure 4. Venezuela Crude Oil Production, U.S. Imports, and Selected Sanction Events ........... 23
Figure 5. Observable Venezuela Crude Oil Exports by Destination ....................................... 24

Table 1. U.S. Foreign Assistance to Venezuela by Account: FY2017-FY2021 ......................... 27

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Table B-1. Online Human Rights Reporting on Venezuela ................................................... 35

Appendix A. Legislation Enacted in the 116th Congress....................................................... 34
Appendix B. Online Human Rights Reporting on Venezuela ................................................ 35

Author Information ....................................................................................................... 35

Congressional Research Service

Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

Venezuela, long one of the most prosperous countries in South America, with the world’s largest
proven oil reserves, remains in the throes of a deep, multifaceted crisis under the authoritarian
rule of Nicolás Maduro of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Despite international
pressure for Maduro to cede power and his mishandling of Venezuela’s dire economic and
humanitarian crisis, he has consolidated power. In January 2021, the PSUV took de facto control
of the National Assembly, effectively taking over the last independent branch of government and
chal enging the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly elected in 2015.
Many of the nearly 60 countries that recognized Guaidó as Interim President of Venezuela in
2019 did so on the basis of his position as National Assembly president. Although the
Administration of President Joe Biden stil recognizes Guaidó as interim president, many U.S.
al ies, including European Union (EU) member states, do not.
U.S. relations with Venezuela, once a major
Venezuela at a Glance
oil supplier, deteriorated under the Hugo
Population: 28 mil ion (2020 est., IMF)
Chávez government (1999-2013), which
Area: 912,050 km2 (slightly more than twice the size
undermined human rights, the separation of
of California)
powers, and freedom of expression. U.S.
GDP: $47.3 bil ion (2020, current prices, IMF est.)
concerns have deepened as the Maduro
GDP Growth: -30% (2020, IMF est.)
government has cracked down on the
GDP Per Capita: $1,540 (2020, current prices, IMF
opposition, media, and civil society; engaged
in drug trafficking and corruption; convened
Key Trading Partners: Exports—Turkey: 36%,
Brazil: 22%, U.S.: 1.4%. Imports—U.S.: 16.8%, Brazil:
fraudulent elections, and impeded
10.8%, Turkey: 4.6%. (2020, TDM)
humanitarian aid distribution. The
Unemployment: 50.3% (2020, EIU)
Administration of former President Donald
Life Expectancy: 72.1 years (2019, UNDP)
Trump sought to exert diplomatic, economic,
and legal pressure on Maduro until he agreed
Legislature: 2015 National Assembly (unicameral),
with 167 members; 2021 National Assembly, with 277
to leave office so that a transition government
members (United States does not recognize)
could convene free and fair elections. The
Sources: Economist Intel igence Unit (EIU);
Biden Administration is focused on addressing
International Monetary Fund (IMF); Trade Data
the humanitarian situation, supporting the
Monitor (TDM); United Nations Development
Venezuelan people, and engaging in
Programme (UNDP).
multilateral diplomacy to hold corrupt and
abusive officials accountable and to press for a return to democracy.1
This report provides an overview of the overlapping political, economic, and humanitarian crises
in Venezuela, followed by an overview of U.S. policy toward Venezuela.
Political Situation
In the late 1990s, Hugo Chávez rose to power on a populist platform that promised to redistribute
Venezuela’s oil wealth and political power from corrupt elites to the people of Venezuela. Under

1 U.S. Department of State, “Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on Venezuela,” press briefing,
March 8, 2021.
2 CRS Report R42989, Hugo Chávez’s Death: Implications for Venezuela and U.S. Relations, by Mark P. Sullivan; and
CRS Report R43239, Venezuela: Issues for Congress, 2013-2016, by Mark P. Sullivan.
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

Chávez (1999-2013), Venezuela adopted a new constitution (ratified by plebiscite in 1999); a new
unicameral legislature; and a new name for the country—the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,
named after the 19th-century South American liberator Simón Bolívar. Buoyed by windfal profits
from high oil prices, the Chávez government expanded the state’s role in the economy. Chávez’s
charisma, use of oil revenue to fund social programs and provide subsidized oil to Cuba and other
countries, and opposition to the United States captured global attention.
Figure 1. Political Map of Venezuela

Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS).
Chávez’s legacy has been debated. President Chávez established an array of social programs and
services that helped reduce poverty by some 20% and improve literacy and access to health care.3
Nevertheless, his presidency was “characterized by a dramatic concentration of power and open
disregard for basic human rights guarantees,” especial y after his brief ouster from power in
2002.4 Declining oil production, combined with massive debt and high inflation, have shown the
costs of Chávez’s failure to save or invest past oil profits, tendency to take on debt and print
money, and decision to fire thousands of technocrats after an oil workers’ strike in 2002-2003.

3 Daniel Hellinger and Anthony Petros Spanakos, “T he Legacy of Hugo Chávez,” Latin American Perspectives, vol.
44, no. 1, January 2017, pp. 4-15.
4 Human Rights Watch, “Venezuela: Chávez’s Authoritarian Legacy,” March 5, 2013.
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

After Chávez’s death in March 2013, Acting President Nicolás Maduro narrowly defeated
Henrique Capriles of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) of opposition parties in April
elections. The opposition al eged significant irregularities and protested; Maduro sought to
consolidate his authority. Security forces and al ied civilian groups violently suppressed protests
and restricted freedom of speech and assembly. In 2014, 43 people died and 800 were injured in
clashes between pro-Maduro forces and student-led protesters concerned about rising crime.
Maduro imprisoned opposition figures, including Leopoldo López, head of the Popular Wil (VP)
party, for al egedly inciting violence. In February 2015, the government again cracked down.
Nicolás Maduro
In the December 2015 legislative elections, the
A former trade unionist who served in Venezuela’s
MUD captured a two-thirds majority in the
legislature from 1998 until 2006, Nicolás Maduro
National Assembly—a major setback for Maduro.
held the position of National Assembly president
The PSUV-aligned Supreme Court blocked three
from 2005 to 2006, when he became President
MUD deputies from taking office, depriving the
Chávez’s foreign minister. Maduro retained that
position until mid-January 2013, concurrently
opposition of a two-thirds majority. From January
serving as vice president beginning in October
2016 to August 2017, the Supreme Court blocked
2012, when President Chávez tapped him to serve
laws and assumed the legislature’s functions. In
in that position fol owing his reelection. Maduro
2016, opposition efforts to recal President
often was described as a staunch Chávez loyalist.
Maduro in a national referendum were delayed
Maduro’s partner since 1992 is wel -known
Chávez supporter Cilia Flores, who served as the
and then suspended by the National Electoral
president of the National Assembly from 2006 to
Council (CNE). Most of the opposition (except the
2011; the two married in 2013.
VP party) entered talks with the government
mediated by the Vatican and others. By December,
the opposition had left the talks as the Maduro government failed to meet its commitments.5
In early 2017, President Maduro appointed a hard-line vice president, Tareck el Aissami, a U.S.-
designated drug kingpin, and cracked down on freedom of assembly and expression. Despite
these moves, the MUD was reenergized after the Supreme Court’s March 2017 rulings to dissolve
the legislature. After domestic protests and international criticism, President Maduro urged the
court to revise those rulings, and it complied. In April 2017, the government banned Capriles
from seeking office for 15 years, which fueled more protests. From March to July 2017, the
opposition conducted large protests against the government. Clashes between security forces
(backed by armed civilian militias) and protesters left more than 130 dead.6
In May 2017, President Maduro announced he would convene a constituent assembly to revise
the constitution and scheduled July 30 elections to select delegates to that assembly. The Supreme
Court ruled that Maduro could convoke the assembly without first holding a popular referendum
(as the constitution requires). The opposition boycotted, arguing the elections were
unconstitutional, a position shared by international observers (including the United States).
Despite an opposition boycott, the government orchestrated the July 2017 election of a 545-
member National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which served as a paral el legislative body until
members of the PSUV-dominated National Assembly took their seats in January 2021.
President Maduro gained the upper hand over the MUD despite international condemnation of his
actions. In October 2017, the PSUV won 18 of 23 gubernatorial elections. Although fraud likely
took place given the discrepancies between opinion polls and the election results, the opposition

5 T hose commitments included (1) releasing political prisoners, (2) announcing an electoral calendar, (3) respecting the
National Assembly’s decisions, and (4) addressing humanitarian needs.
6 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Human Rights Violations and Abuses
in the Context of Protests in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela from 1 April to 31 July 2017
, August 30, 2017.
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

could not prove that it was widespread. There is evidence that the PSUV linked receipt of future
government food assistance to votes for its candidates by placing food assistance card registration
centers next to polling stations, a practice also used in subsequent elections.7 The MUD coalition
initial y rejected the election results, but four victorious MUD governors took their oaths of office
in front of the ANC (rather than the National Assembly), a decision that fractured the coalition.
With the opposition in disarray, President Maduro moved to consolidate power and blamed U.S.
sanctions for the country’s economic problems. Maduro fired and arrested the head of Petróleos
de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) and the oil minister for corruption. He appointed a general with no
experience in energy to fil both positions, consolidating military control over the economy. The
ANC approved a law to further restrict freedom of expression and assembly. Although most
opposition parties did not participate in municipal elections held in December 2017, a few fielded
candidates. The PSUV won more than 300 of 335 mayoralties.
May 2018 Elections and Aftermath
The Venezuelan constitution established that the country’s presidential elections were to be held by December
2018. Although many prominent opposition politicians had been imprisoned (Leopoldo López , under house
arrest), barred from seeking office (Henrique Capriles), or in exile, some Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD)
leaders sought to unseat President Maduro through elections. Those leaders negotiated with the United Socialist
Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to try to obtain guarantees, such as a reconstituted National Electoral Council (CNE)
and international observers, to help ensure the elections would be as free and fair as possible. In January 2018, the
National Constituent Assembly (ANC) ignored those negotiations and cal ed for elections to be moved up from
December to May 2018, violating a constitutional requirement that elections be cal ed with at least six months
anticipation. The MUD declared an election boycott, but Henri Falcón broke with the coalition to run.
Venezuela’s presidential election proved to be minimal y competitive and took place within a climate of state
repression. There were no international y accredited election monitors. The government coerced its workers to
vote and placed food assistance card distribution centers next to pol ing stations. The CNE reported that Mad uro
received 67.7% of the votes fol owed by Falcón (21%). Voter turnout was much lower in 2018 (46%) than in 20 13
(80%). After independent monitors reported widespread fraud, Falcón cal ed for new elections.
Fol owing the disputed election, Maduro faced mounting economic problems, coup attempts, and international
isolation. His government released some political prisoners but also increased Maduro’s control over the judiciary
and the intel igence services.
Maduro’s Second Term: 2019-Present
The United States, the EU, and many neighboring countries ceased to recognize Maduro as
Venezuela’s legitimate president in January 2019, following his fraudulent May 2018 reelection.
These countries also do not recognize the legitimacy of the legislature seated in January 2021,
following December 2020 elections that did not meet international standards.
On January 5, 2019, the democratical y elected, opposition-controlled National Assembly elected
Juan Guaidó, a 35-year-old industrial engineer from the VP party, as its president. Guaidó then
announced he was wil ing to serve as interim president until new elections were held. Buoyed by
a huge turnout after cal ing for protests, Guaidó took the oath of office on January 23, 2019. The
United States and nearly 60 countries recognized Guaidó as interim president.
The United States continues to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and the
2015 National Assembly as the only democratic institution in the country, but Guaidó’s domestic
and international support has eroded substantial y. In 2019, Guaidó’s supporters organized two

7 Michael Penfold, Food, Technology, and Authoritarianism in Venezuela’s Elections, Woodrow Wilson Center, April
18, 2018.
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to encourage security forces to abandon Maduro.
Some observers then hoped talks mediated by Norway could lead to a negotiated solution that
would establish the conditions for international y monitored elections to be held.8 Hopes faded,
however, after Maduro stopped participating in negotiations in early August 2019 following new
U.S. sanctions. In 2020, restrictions on freedom of assembly prompted by the Coronavirus
Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic impeded Guaidó’s ability to mobilize supporters. He lost
further support after reports surfaced that he had condoned a plan that ended in a botched raid
against Maduro in May 2020.9
A key to Maduro’s resilience has been the loyalty he has retained among most Venezuelan
security forces. For years, military leaders and other officials have enriched themselves through
corruption, drug trafficking, and other il icit industries. Some military leaders also may fear that,
under a new government, they could face prosecution or extradition abroad for human rights
abuses. The U.S. government has said it may remove sanctions on officials who abandon Maduro
(as it did with Manuel Cristopher Figuera in May 2019), but doing so could be difficult,
depending upon the individual and sanctions involved.10 Final y, Venezuelan intel igence
officials, trained and supported by Cubans, have arrested dissidents within the military. In June
2019, a naval officer died after being tortured in custody.
In 2020, Maduro used the pandemic to increase repression and secured control of the National
Assembly by convening elections that were due to be held by December 2020.11 In June, the
Supreme Court ruled that, since efforts to select a CNE had stal ed in the National Assembly, it
would name new CNE rectors. After naming a new CNE, the Supreme Court disbanded the
leadership of three major opposition parties and named new leaders for each. The CNE held
elections on December 6, 2020, but most opposition parties boycotted. With low voter turnout,
the PSUV captured 255 of the 277 seats at stake in the newly expanded National Assembly.
Guaidó and the broader opposition face a difficult future.12 Guaidó and other opposition
legislators are under investigation for seditious actions by a committee in the de facto National
Assembly.13 Guaidó’s position as head of the opposition also is tenuous. In mid-2020, former
presidential candidate Capriles, backed by the EU, broke with Guaidó to seek better conditions
and a postponement of the December legislative elections rather than the preemptive boycott that
Guaidó, with U.S. support, had declared.14 More recently, Capriles has negotiated with the
Maduro government to have two opposition rectors placed on the new CNE that the National

8 David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey, International Peacemaking in Venezuela’s Intractable Conflict, Fundación
Carolina, 2020; and International Crisis Group, Peace in Venezuela: Is There Life after the Barbados Talks? , Briefing
No. 41, December 11, 2019.
9 Nick Schifrin, “Inside the Botched Venezuela Raid that Maduro is T rying to Exploit,” PBS News Hour, May 12,
10 U.S. Department of the T reasury, “ Treasury Removes Sanctions Imposed on Former High-Ranking Venezuelan
Intelligence Official After Public Break with Maduro and Dismissal,” May 7, 2019.
11 T his draws from: International Crisis Group, Venezuela: What Lies Ahead after Election Clinches Maduro’s Clean
, December 21, 2020.
12 Anatoly Kurmanaev and Lara Jakes, “T o Fight or Adapt? Venezuela’s Fading Opposition Struggles to Keep Going,”
New York Tim es, March 8, 2021.
13 OHCHR, “Statement by Marta Valiñas, Chairperson of the Independent International Fact -Finding Mission on the
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council,” March 10, 2021. Hereinafter,
OHCHR, “Statement by Marta Valiñas.”
14 Scott Smith, “ Venezuelan Opposition Leader, EU Urge Delay in Election,” AP, September 30, 2020.
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Assembly is selecting.15 Other opposition leaders, particularly those in exile, favor more
aggressive options, including military intervention in Venezuela.16 (For prospects, see “Outlook,”
Human Rights
Human rights organizations, international organizations, and U.S. officials have expressed
concerns about the deterioration of democratic institutions and threats to freedom of speech and
press in Venezuela; concerns have increased since 2014.17 The nongovernmental organization
(NGO) Reporters Without Borders has described an “extremely tense” environment for
journalists since 2016, with independent outlets harassed and journalists subject to arbitrary
detentions.18 DeJusticia, a Venezuelan human rights organization, has catalogued the dangers
facing human rights defenders in Venezuela.19 In 2017, Venezuelan security forces and al ied
armed civilian militias (colectivos) committed numerous human rights violations against
protesters. Since then, cases involving extrajudicial kil ings of protesters have remained
Venezuela has among the highest homicide and crime victimization rates in Latin America and
the Caribbean, with security forces accused of an increasing percentage of kil ings and other
violent crimes. According to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV), the overal homicide
rate in Venezuela declined in 2020 (45.6 homicides per 100,000 people, compared with 60.3 per
100,000 people in 2019), but much of that decline was due to quarantine restrictions. Homicides
increased in six border states, according to Fundaredes, a group that tracks violence in those
states.21 Additional y, 2020 marked the first year in which the OVV attributed a higher percentage
of homicides to security forces than to criminal groups.22 The Special Action Force of
Venezuela’s National Police (FAES), which Maduro created in 2017, has been accused of
hundreds of extrajudicial kil ings, including a massacre that occurred in January 2021.23 Human
Rights Watch has documented kil ings and torture by Venezuelan armed forces involved in a
March 2021 offensive against Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents on
the border with Colombia.24
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michel e Bachelet visited Venezuela in June 2019.
The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) then issued a report in

15 Joshua Goodman, “ U.S. Weighs Policy on Venezuela as Maduro Signals Flexibility,” AP, April 26, 2021.
16 International Crisis Group, The Exile Effect: Venezuela’s Overseas Opposition and Social Media, February 24, 2021.
17 Freedom House, Freedom in the World, 2020.
18 Reporters Without Borders, “Venezuela: Ever More Authoritarian,” at
19 Ezekiel Monsalve et. al., Defender los Derechos Humanos en Venezuela, DeJusticia, 2021, at
20 OHCHR, Human Rights Violations and Abuses in the Context of Protests in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
from 1 April to 31 July 2017
, August 30, 2017.
21 Parker Asmann and Katie Jones, “InSight Crime’s 2020 Homicide Round-Up,” January 29, 2021 (hereinafter,
Asmann and Jones, “Homicide Round-Up”); and Fundaredes, Curva de la Violencia 2020, March 2021. T hus far in
2021, clashes between the Venezuelan government and illegally armed groups also have prompted thousands to fl ee
into Colombia. AP, “T housands Flee to Colombia After Clashes on Venezuela Border,” March 24, 2021.
22 Asmann and Jones, “Homicide Round-Up.”
23 Amnesty International, “International Criminal Court Prosecutor Must Include New Mass Extrajudicial Executions in
Preliminary Examination,” February 18, 2021.
24 Human Rights Watch, Venezuela: Security Force Abuses at Colombia Border, April 26, 2021.
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July 2019 documenting a range of significant human rights abuses perpetrated by the Maduro
government, including evidence that security forces committed some 6,800 extrajudicial kil ings
from January 2018 to May 2019.25 In July 2020, the OHCHR issued two reports on Venezuela.26
The U.S. State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering 2020 cited
“extrajudicial kil ings by security forces;. . forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel,
inhuman, and degrading treatment by security forces” as among the most serious human rights
abuses in Venezuela. In September 2020, the OHCHR’s independent fact-finding mission on
Venezuela reported that some abuses committed by Venezuelan security forces since 2014,
including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and torture, amounted to crimes
against humanity.27 In a March 2021 update, the OHCHR mission said it was investigating some
200 al eged extrajudicial kil ings committed since January 2021 and monitoring new government
harassment of human rights and humanitarian organizations.28
Repression may continue in Venezuela as the Maduro government broadens the scope of those it
considers “internal threats,” surging cases of COVID-19 prompt crackdowns on civil liberties,
and the legislature considers a law that would require news outlets and NGOs receiving foreign
funds to register with the government.29 According to Foro Penal, a Venezuelan human rights
organization, there were an estimated 318 political prisoners (125 soldiers) in Venezuela as of
April 28, 2021. The number of political prisoners has stayed relatively stable over time, as some
political detainees have been released (but remain under surveil ance) and others have been
arrested.30 In 2020, security forces detained doctors and journalists critical of the government’s
pandemic response,31 and the Supreme Court further stripped opposition lawmakers’ immunity
from prosecution. Dozens of legislators have been detained in recent years (and, upon release,
monitored by the Maduro government) or have fled into exile (including Leopoldo López in
2020). This trend may accelerate, as the Maduro-aligned judiciary asserts that Guaidó and al
other legislators elected in 2015 no longer have immunity from prosecution.
In addition, other prisoners have been detained for crimes such as corruption, sometimes without
evidence. Six former Citgo executives, five with dual U.S. citizenship and one U.S. legal
permanent resident, were imprisoned in 2017 and convicted to multiyear sentences on

25 OHCHR, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
, Annual Report no. A/HRC/41/18, July 5, 2019.
26 T he first report provided an updated assessment on the human rights situation in the country, including evidence that
security forces committed some 1,300 extrajudicial killings from January to May 2020. T he second report documented
labor exploitation and other serious human rights abuses committed by criminal groups in Venezuela’s mining regions.
OHCHR, Report of the United Nations High Com m issioner for Hum an Rights on the Situation o f Hum an Rights in
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
, Annual Report no. A/HRC/44/20, July 2, 2020; and OHCHR, Independence of the
Justice System and Access to Justice in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
, July 15, 2020.
27 U.N. Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela, 14 Septem ber-2 October 2020
28 OHCHR, “Statement by Marta Valiñas.”
29 OHCHR, “Statement by Marta Valiñas”; and Latin News Daily, “Venezuela: Maduro Announces New Lockdown as
Covid Cases Spike,” March 23, 2021; John Otis, “Proposed Venezuelan Foreign Funding Law Could Have ‘Huge
Impact’ on Independent Outlets,” Committee to Protect Journalists, April 19, 2021.
30 For more information, see Foro Penal, For analysis on how the Maduro
government has relied on cycles of repression to maintain its grip on power, see Alfredo Romero, The Repression
Clock: A Strategy Behind Autocratic Regim es,
Woodrow Wilson Report on the Americas, #40, August 2020.
31 Anatoly Kurmanaev, Isayen Herrera and Sheyla Urdaneta, “Venezuela Deploys Security Forces in Coronavirus
Crackdown,” New York Times, August 19, 2020.
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embezzlement charges in November 2020.32 Two Americans detained in May for participating in
a botched raid against Maduro have been sentenced to 20 years in prison.33
For other sources on human rights in Venezuela, see Appendix B.
International Investigations into Human Rights Abuses. In September 2019, the U.N. Human
Rights Council passed a resolution condemning human rights abuses by the Maduro government
and establishing an independent fact-finding mission in Venezuela with a mandate for one year.
The mission’s mandate has been extended through 2022. Venezuela’s October 2019 election to a
three-year seat on the Human Rights Council, which began in January 2020, thus far has not
impeded the mission’s ongoing reporting.
The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) has issued annual reports
documenting the situation of human rights in Venezuela.34 In October 2019, the IACHR created a
Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Venezuela (MESEVE) to work with the U.N. to respond to
human rights violations within Venezuela and in countries hosting Venezuelans. The MESEVE
receives and responds to requests for “precautionary measures” from those under serious threat
and supports litigation regarding Venezuela before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.35
In addition, the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has condemned abuses
against journalists and media outlets in Venezuela, including a January 2021 Venezuelan Supreme
Court decision ordering El Nacional to pay $13 mil ion to a former legislator who the newspaper
reported was possibly tied to drug trafficking.36
In September 2018, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru submitted a joint
claim asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate serious human rights abuses
committed by the Maduro government. Former Venezuelan officials and the Organization of
American States (OAS) also have asked the ICC to investigate violations committed by the
Maduro government. The ICC prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation in February 2018. In
December 2020, she filed a report stating she had a “reasonable basis” to determine the Maduro
government had committed crimes against humanity and would determine whether to launch a
full investigation in 2021.37
Economic Crisis38
Venezuela is in the throes of a multiyear economic crisis, one of the worst economic crises in the
world since World War II:

32 Jaclyn Diaz, “ 6 U.S. Citgo Executives Convicted And Sentenced In Venezuela,” NPR, November 27, 2020.
33 AP, “2 Ex-Green Berets Sentenced to 20 Years for Venezuela Attack,” August 8, 2020.
34 IACHR, “Special Report: Venezuela,” in Annual Report 2020, at
35 Organization of American States (OAS), IACHR, “Precautionary Measures,” at
36 OAS, IACHR, “T he IACHR and Its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Express Grave
Concern over Ruling Ordering the Newspaper El Nacional in Venezuela to Pay More T han $13 Million Dollars,” April
21, 2021.
37 Reuters, “ICC Prosecutor Sees ‘Reasonable Basis’ to Believe Venezuela Committed Crimes Against Humanity,”
December 14, 2020.
38 T his section was authored by Rebecca M. Nelson, Specialist in International T rade and Finance. Data in this section,
unless otherwise noted, are from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Country Report: Venezuela, accessed February
26, 2021.
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 Its economy has contracted by more than 75% since 2014 (Figure 2), estimated
as the single largest economic collapse outside of war in at least 45 years and
more than twice the magnitude of the Great Depression in the United States.39
 Government finances are in dire straits; budget deficits have averaged 20% of
gross domestic product annual y since 2014 (Figure 2), and the government has
defaulted on its debt.
 The government has monetized its budget deficits (created new money to pay for
its deficits), leading to hyperinflation that has wiped out the value of citizens’
wages and savings and has created shortages of foreign exchange.
 Imports—which Venezuela relies on for most consumer goods—have fal en by
almost 95% since 2013 (Figure 2). The country faces shortages of critical food
and medicine, contributing to its ongoing humanitarian crisis (see “Humanitarian
Situation and Response,
” below).
 According to a household survey, around 96% of Venezuelans live in poverty.40
Figure 2. Venezuela’s Economic Crisis: Selected Trends

Source: Economist Intel igence Unit (EIU), Country Report: Venezuela, accessed April 20, 2021.
The trigger for Venezuela’s economic crisis was the crash in world oil prices in 2014. Venezuela
has the world’s largest proven reserves of oil, and its economy is built on oil. Oil traditional y has
accounted for more than 90% of Venezuelan exports, and oil sales have funded the government
budget. When world oil prices fel by nearly 50% in 2014, the main industry in Venezuela, and
the main source of government revenue, was hit hard. However, the collapse in oil prices also
exposed the damage to Venezuela’s economy from years of economic mismanagement. Under
Chávez, the government engaged in widespread expropriations and nationalizations, implemented
price and currency controls, and borrowed heavily. Corruption also proliferated. These policies
introduced market distortions, deterred foreign investment, and did not diversify the economy.
Venezuela’s economy was buoyed in the 2000s by high oil prices, but government
mismanagement made the economy vulnerable to the 2014oil price shock.
The Maduro government’s policy to the economic crisis has been inadequate. The Maduro
government was initial y slow to address the economic crisis or acknowledge the government’s
role in creating it. Instead, it has largely blamed the country’s struggles on a foreign “economic

39 EIU, Country Report: Venezuela, accessed February 26, 2021; Anatoly Kurmanaev, New York Times, “Venezuela’s
Collapse Is the Worst Outside of War in Decades, Economists Say,” May 17, 2019; Michael Stott, “Venezuela: T he
Political Stand-off Fueling an Economic Collapse,” Financial Tim es, August 4, 2019.
40 Reuters, “Venezuela Poverty Rate Surges Amid Economic Collapse, Inflation,” July 7, 2020.
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war,” a reference to U.S. sanctions.41 Piecemeal efforts to address the crisis, including price
controls and the creation of a new digital currency, the petro, were ineffective. Some initiatives,
such as restructuring debt or bringing the government budget into balance, were pledged and then
abandoned. Meanwhile, continued mismanagement of the oil sector and U.S. sanctions targeting
Venezuela’s oil sector also likely contributed to a fal in oil production, such that even as global
oil prices rebounded, Venezuela’s economy did not recover. Subsequent rounds of U.S. sanctions
targeting the government, central bank, and gold sectors, as wel as limiting Venezuela’s access to
the U.S. financial system, likely exacerbated economic pressures in Venezuela. With private
creditors unwil ing and unable (due to sanctions) to purchase new Venezuelan debt, the Maduro
government routinely turned to its main international financial backers—China, Russia, and more
recently, Iran—but China and Russia are increasingly reluctant to extend further assistance.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the economic chal enges facing the
Venezuelan government. The government and economy were il -prepared to address the health or
economic effects of COVID-19. Social distancing mandates disrupted economic activities, even
as they are difficult for Venezuelans to obey; the majority of people must work in crowded,
informal sector jobs in order to survive. The government reimposed price controls on many basic
food items; increased gas prices for the first time in two decades; and lifted long-standing bans on
gold, diamond, and mining bans in rivers in the Amazon (where mining was already occurring
il egal y). In late 2020 and early 2021, the government implemented new market-oriented
Despite these reforms, the economic outlook for Venezuela, which for decades was one of South
America’s most prosperous economies, remains bleak. The economic crisis, now exacerbated by
the pandemic, has been devastating for its citizens, with no clear or quick resolution on the
horizon in the absence of a resolution to the concurrent political crisis. The Maduro government
appears loathe to adopt policies widely viewed by economists as necessary to restoring the
economy: removing price controls, creating an independent central bank, entering an IMF
program that could unlock broader international assistance, and restructuring its debt with
bondholders. It is unclear how Venezuela’s economy can rebuild in the absence of a significant
reorientation of economic policies.
Venezuela’s Assets in the United States: Citgo
Many private investors and companies are pursuing legal channels to seize Venezuela’s assets in the United States,
in compensation for Venezuela’s default and/or in compensation for the expropriation of assets by the Venezuelan
government under President Chávez. Venezuela’s main asset in the United States is Citgo. Citgo is a U.S.-based
subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A (PdVSA). Citgo operates oil
refineries in Texas, Louisiana, and Il inois and owns 48 petroleum product terminals and a pipeline network that
delivers these products to various customers. The company that became Citgo was founded in 1910. PdVSA
bought about half of Citgo in 1986 and the other half in 1990.
Citgo is widely viewed as the most valuable overseas asset in PdVSA’s portfolio. Citgo is an attractive, and perhaps
the only, avenue for seeking compensation from the Maduro government given the severity of Venezuela ’s
financial situation. According to one analyst, “Everyone wants the Citgo assets because it’s the only way to get
paid. Although Citgo is valuable, its assets are unlikely large enough to compensate al potential claimants.
Some U.S. policymakers want to protect Citgo from seizure by private creditors and companies, in order to
preserve the asset for the interim government if it takes power. Some interest groups, however, expressed
concerns about interference with property rights involving U.S. investors and the free market.

41 Rachelle Krygier, “After Years of Crisis, Venezuela’s Maduro Might Finally Be Ready to Accept Some Help,”
Washington Post, December 12, 2018.
42 Gideon Long, “Venezuela T akes T entative Steps T owards Market Reform,” Financial Times, January 11, 2021;
Gideon Long, “Venezuela Seeks to Breathe Life into Moribund Bourse,” Financial Times, February 5, 2021.
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In October 2019, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a
general license that shields the transfer of Citgo to potential claimants. It is a time-limited shield, but has been
extended several times, most recently through July 2021. President Maduro accuses the government’s opposition
of attempting to “steal” Citgo and the United States of trying to control Venezuela’s oil reserves.
Sources: Citgo, “Our Story,” at; Fancisco Mondaldi, a fel ow
in Latin American energy policy at Rice University as quoted in Clifford Krauss, “’It’s the Only Way to Get Paid’: A
Struggle for Citgo, Venezuela’s U.S. Oil Company,” New York Times, October 17, 2019; and Andrew Scurria,
“Venezuela Can Afford Payment to Keep Control of Citgo, Creditor Lawyer Says,” Wal Street Journal, October
21, 2019.
Humanitarian Situation and Response43
The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Venezuela has elevated congressional concerns about
the country. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Venezuelans were facing a lack of food,
medicine and health care, and access to social services. Political persecution, hyperinflation, loss
of income, and poverty also contributed to a dire situation. According to household surveys, the
percentage of Venezuelans living in poverty increased from 48.4% in 2014 to 96% in 2019 (with
80% in extreme poverty).44
By the end of 2020, more than 7 mil ion people were estimated to require humanitarian
assistance, with pregnant and nursing women, those with chronic il nesses, indigenous people,
migrants, children under five, and people with disabilities particularly in need.45 Food insecurity
is also a significant issue, mainly due to the price of food rather than its lack of availability.46
Many households do not have reliable access to potable water and interruptions in electrical
service and gas supplies are common. With a collapsed health system, overal health indicators,
particularly infant and maternal mortality rates, have worsened. Previously eradicated diseases
such as diphtheria and measles also have become a major concern, along with COVID-19. Fuel
shortages, exacerbated by the end of U.S.-licensed oil for diesel swaps in the fal of 2020,
reportedly have made food distribution and humanitarian aid delivery more chal enging.47
As of April 5, 2021, U.N. agencies estimated more than 5.6 mil ion Venezuelans had fled the
country. Roughly 4.7 mil ion (about 85%) of the refugees and migrants were hosted in Latin
American and Caribbean countries, with more than 1.7 mil ion Venezuelans in Colombia (see
Figure 3.)48 Responses to the Venezuelan arrivals have varied by country and continue to evolve
with events on the ground. The displacement crisis has affected the entire region, as neighboring
countries strain to absorb arrivals often malnourished and in poor health. Although the U.N. High

43 T his section was authored by Rhoda Margesson, Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy. For background,
see CRS In Focus IF11029, The Venezuela Regional Hum anitarian Crisis and COVID-19, by Rhoda Margesson and
Clare Ribando Seelke.
44 Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, Encuesta Sobre Condiciones de Vida:Venezuela 2019-2020: Avance de
, July 2020.
45 USAID, “Venezuela Regional Crisis,” fact sheet #1, December 16, 2020.
46 World Food Program, “Venezuela Food Security Assessment: Main Findings,” February 23, 2020.
47 Antonio Maria Delgado and Camille Rodríguez Montilla, “ T he Country’s Whole Food Supply Is at Risk.’ Diesel
Shortages Hit Venezuela’s T ruckers,” Miam i Herald, March 11, 2021.
48 U.N. Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, “Response for Venezuelans (RV4) Data
Portal,” February 5, 2021.
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Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not consider most Venezuelans to be refugees, it
asserts that a significant number of displaced Venezuelans need humanitarian assistance,
international protection, and opportunities to regularize their status.49
Venezuela’s exodus has become an
unprecedented displacement crisis for the
Figure 3. Venezuelan Migrants and Asylum
Western Hemisphere, which has in place
Seekers: Flows to the Region and Beyond
some of the highest protection standards in
the world for displaced and vulnerable
persons. The countries in the region have
been under pressure to examine their
respective migration and asylum policies and
to address, as a region, the legal status of
Venezuelans who have fled their country.
More than 2.5 mil ion Venezuelans in
neighboring countries lack identification
documents, making them vulnerable to
exploitation.50 In a move welcomed in the
region and by the international community,
the Colombian government announced an
initiative in February 2021 to provide 10-year
temporary protection status to Venezuelan
migrants in Colombia.51 With separate global

compacts on refugees and migration adopted
Source: U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
in 2018, experts urge timely and predictable
funding from the international community to support efforts by host governments to assist
Venezuelan refugees and migrants and the communities sheltering them.52
Since March 21, 2021, fighting between Venezuelan military forces and Colombian non-state
armed groups based in Venezuela’s Apure State has driven displacement in and around Apure,
Venezuela. Increased security concerns and existing COVID-19-related movement restrictions
have affected humanitarian access. As of April 14, the Pan American Health Organization
(PAHO) and the Venezuelan Red Cross were the only relief organizations providing assistance to
affected populations in the area. Approximately 5,800 people have fled across the border to
Colombia’s Arauca Department. Colombian authorities are providing humanitarian assistance and

49 UNHCR, “Guidance Note on the Outflow of Venezuelans,” March 2018; and UNHCR and International
Organization for Migration (IOM), Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Refugees and Migrants fro m
Venezuela: RMRP 2021
, December 2020.
50 T he Venezuelan government has made it difficult for Venezuelans to obtain a valid passport and therefore legal
status outside the country. U.N. Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, Response for
Venezuelans (RV4), “Refugee and Migrant Response Plan 2020,” as of July 5, 2020.
51 More than half the Venezuelans currently living in Colombia lack regular status, which affects their ability to access
essential services, protection, and assistance. UNHCR-IOM Joint Press Release, “ UNHCR and IOM Welcome
Colombia’s Decision to Regularize Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants,” February 8, 2021.
52 Following U.N.-led international meetings to promote humanitarian action and policy development globally, in 2018,
U.N. member states adopted two global compacts—a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM)
and a Global Compact on Refugees (GCR).52 T he compacts are separate documents and are a result of distinct
processes, but both are designed to be coherent and complementary. Prior to their adoption, the United States ended its
participation in the GCM in December 2017 and in the GCR in November 2018.
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protection to the recently displaced; however, this has raised concerns that cash assistance could
provide an incentive for displaced Venezuelans to remain in Colombia.53
COVID-19 Pandemic
As in much of the rest of the world, COVID-19 emerged in Venezuela in mid-March 2020 and
added a complicated layer to the country’s humanitarian crisis. In general, vulnerable populations
often live in crowded, unsanitary conditions that make them particularly susceptible to COVID-
19 and present significant chal enges to response and containment.54 PAHO and U.N. Children’s
Fund (UNICEF) have led the international COVID-19 response in Venezuela, prioritizing
capacity-building support for hospitals, as wel as health, water, and sanitation interventions for
vulnerable populations.55 PAHO has facilitated negotiations between Maduro and Guaidó to
obtain and distribute vaccines through the World Health Organization’s COVAX mechanism.56
Reportedly, on April 10, 2021, the Maduro government paid $64 mil ion to receive vaccines
through COVAX. On April 18, the Maduro government announced it had made a second payment
to the COVAX initiative to access approximately 11 mil ion COVID-19 vaccines.57
In neighboring countries, UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and their
partners have sought to address the immediate public health needs of refugees and migrants, as
wel as the displaced prompted by the virus, while trying to reduce the spread and conduct
information and awareness campaigns. A year into the pandemic, transmission and deaths due to
the virus have not reached the levels anticipated across multiple humanitarian settings, including
the Venezuela crisis, although widespread reporting, testing, and data are lacking.58
The pandemic has impeded progress on existing humanitarian priorities, and its secondary
impacts (such as increased food insecurity, protection risks, and poverty) have exacerbated an
already chal enging humanitarian situation. COVID-19 prevention measures that restrict
movement (such as physical distancing, quarantine orders, and border closures) have disrupted
the informal economy, cross-border economic activity, and remittances, and loss of livelihoods
and economic decline have made it difficult for Venezuelans to meet their basic needs.59 The
pandemic has complicated many Venezuelans’ decisions about whether to stay, leave, or, in a
much smal er number of cases, return to Venezuela.60

53 UNHCR, “Arauquita Crisis, Colombia,” UNHCR Response #1, April 8, 2021.
54Jacob Kurtzer, “T he Impact of COVID-19 on Humanitarian Crises,” CSIS: Critical Questions, March 19, 2020;
Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer, “T he Next Wave: U.N. and Relief Agencies Warn the Coronavirus Pandemic Could
Leave an Even Bigger Path of Destruction in the World’s Most Vulnerable and Conflict-Riven Countries,” Foreign
, March 23, 2020; and Høvring Roald, “ T en T hings You Should Know About Coronavirus and Refugees,”
Norwegian Refugee Council, March 16, 2020.
55 U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA), Humanitarian Response Plan with
Hum anitarian Needs Overview: Venezuela
, July 2020.
56 Maduro has rejected the Astra Zeneca vaccine, the main vaccine that COVAX has offered to other Latin American
governments. Reuters, “Venezuela’s Maduro Proposes Paying for Coronavirus Vaccines with Oil,” March 28, 2021.
57 Reuters, “Venezuela Paid $64 Million to Receive Vaccines through COVAX, April 10, 2021, and Reuters,
“Venezuela Makes Second COVAX Payment for Vaccines as U.N. Official Visits, “ April 18, 2021.
58 UNOCHA, Global Humanitarian Overview 2021, December 2020.
59 Ibid.
60 UNHCR, “Venezuelans Defy the Pandemic to Seek a Future in Colombia,” February 8, 2021.
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U.N. Humanitarian Response Plan in Venezuela
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA) coordinates the
international humanitarian response in Venezuela. The Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) in
Venezuela is a collective effort by UNOCHA and implementing partners to coordinate and scale
up a response across the country, with assistance in the areas of health, water, sanitation and
hygiene, food security, nutrition, protection, shelter and nonfood items, and education. The 2021
HRP has sought $762.5 mil ion in aid and targets assistance for 4.5 mil ion of the country’s most
vulnerable people.
Following lengthy negotiations that began in 2019, on April 19, 2021, the U.N. World Food
Program (WFP) and the Maduro government signed a memorandum of understanding that would
al ow WFP to establish a humanitarian presence inside Venezuela with full operational
independence from the Maduro regime. WFP plans to provide food assistance to 185,000 of the
most vulnerable children by the end of 2021 and to 1.5 mil ion children by the end of the 2022-
2023 school year. The estimated budget for this program is $190 mil ion, which wil be funded
through the Venezuela HRP.61
Humanitarian access inside Venezuela has been a chal enge for many humanitarian organizations.
As further indication, on April 14, 2021, the Maduro government mandated that NGOs operating
in Venezuela register with its Office Against Organized Crime and Terrorism Financing.62
International Humanitarian Regional Response Plan
UNHCR and IOM coordinate the international response to the needs of displaced Venezuelans
and host communities in the region, which includes governments, U.N. entities, NGOs (national
and international), the Red Cross Movement, faith-based organizations, and civil society. The
Regional Interagency Coordination Platform provides a common humanitarian framework for
assistance. The 2021 Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan, launched in December 2020,
appealed for $1.4 bil ion to reach 3.3 mil ion of the most vulnerable across Latin America and the
Protection and assistance needs are significant for arrivals and host communities, particularly in
border areas. Services provided vary by country but include reception centers and options for
shelter; emergency relief items, legal assistance with asylum applications and other matters;
protection from violence and exploitation; and temporary work programs and education
opportunities. The Quito Process, a regional coordinating mechanism, has helped harmonize
policies among host countries and donors and scale up the humanitarian response.
International Actors in Venezuela’s Crisis
The international community remains divided over how to respond to the crisis in Venezuela. In
2019, the United States, Canada, most of the member states of the European Union (EU),
Australia, Japan, Israel, South Korea, and 16 Western Hemisphere countries recognized Juan
Guaidó as interim president and supported a peaceful transfer of power from Maduro to an

61 U.N. News, “World Food Programme Reaches Deal to Supply Food to 185,000 Children in Venezuela,” April 20,
62 Amnesty International, “Venezuela: Civil Society Organizations Declare their Resounding Rejection and Demand
the Repeal of the New Registration Measure for T errorism and Other Crimes, April 20, 2021 .
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elected government. Many of those countries stil support the Venezuelan opposition and the
National Assembly elected in 2015 but do not necessarily recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s
interim president.63 Russia, China, Cuba, Turkey, Iran, and others support Maduro, his
government, and its claim to power. A third group of countries—including Mexico, Norway,
Uruguay, and some Caribbean nations—has remained neutral in the crisis. Divisions among
global powers may have undermined a Norway-facilitated dialogue in 2019. Without pressure
from their primary external al ies (China and Russia for Maduro, the United States and the EU for
Guaidó), some observers maintain that neither side viewed negotiations as the best option.64
Canada, Switzerland, and the EU have condemned antidemocratic actions by the Maduro
government and issued targeted sanctions against Maduro government officials, with the most
recent EU sanctions imposed in February 2021. In general, these countries oppose military
intervention in Venezuela and have expressed concerns about the humanitarian effects of broad
sanctions, including U.S. oil sanctions. Instead, they favor targeted sanctions on Maduro officials
and their supporters and a negotiated solution to the crisis.65 Since February 2019, the EU-backed
International Contact Group has sought to “establish necessary guarantees for a credible electoral
process, within the earliest time frame possible” and to hasten the delivery of humanitarian aid
into Venezuela.66 Norwegian representatives have maintained communication with Maduro and
opposition leaders.
The OAS under Secretary-General Luis Almagro has been active on Venezuela, but some member
states, including countries in the Caribbean Community, assert that Almagro has sided too
strongly with the opposition. Nevertheless, resolutions have garnered enough votes (19 of 34
member states) to declare Maduro’s 2018 reelection il egitimate (June 2018) and to not recognize
the legitimacy of his second term (January 2019).67 In June 2020, the OAS passed a resolution
condemning the Maduro-aligned Supreme Court’s election-related decisions.68 Thirteen OAS
members remain active in the Lima Group, which formed in August 2017 to hasten a return to
democracy in Venezuela.69 A January 5 Lima Group statement said the signatories “do not
recognize the legitimacy or legality of the National Assembly instal ed on January 5, 2021.”70 In

63 An EU statement from January 25, 2021, asserts that Juan Guaidó and other opposition legislators are “important
actors and privileged interlocutors” but does not recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Council of the
European Union, “Council Conclusions on Venezuela,” January 25, 2021.
64 Abraham F. Lowenthal and David Smilde, “Venezuela: Is T here a Way Out of T his T ragic Impasse?,” Woodrow
Wilson Center, July 2019.
65 T he U.S.-led coalition in support of Guaidó has gradually frayed, as Guaidó has proven unable to channel
international support into domestic political power and differences in U.S. and EU approaches to the crisis have
widened. Elliott Abrams, “ T he EU T ries and Fails Again on Venezuela,” Foreign Policy, February 3, 2021.
66 T hose “necessary guarantees” include naming a new electoral council, releasing political prisoners, and ending bans
on political parties and candidates. Members of the International Contact Group now include Argentina, Chile, Costa
Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Panama, Portugal, Spain, Sweden,
the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.
67 T he OAS requires 18 votes to pass a resolution of the Permanent Council. In June 20 18, 19 of 34 member states
passed a resolution stating that the May 2018 presidential election in Venezuela lacked legitimacy and authorizing
countries to take measures, including sanctions, necessary to hasten a return to democracy. In January 2019, the same
19 states approved a resolution that refused to recognize the legitimacy of Maduro ’s second term; called for new
presidential elections; and urged all member states to adopt diplomatic, political, and financial measures to facilitate the
restoration of democracy in Venezuela.
68 OAS, “ Permanent Council Rejects “Illegitimate” Action of the Venezuelan Court of Justice,” June 27, 2020.
69 T hose countries include Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama,
Paraguay, Peru, St. Lucia, and the Guaidó-led government of Venezuela.
70 Countries that signed that statement include Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador,
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addition, 11 OAS member states that are states parties to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal
Assistance have imposed targeted sanctions and travel bans on Maduro officials.71 OAS member
states oppose military intervention in Venezuela
Russia, China, Cuba, Turkey, Iran, and a few other countries support Maduro. Russia and China
have blocked U.S.-led efforts at the U.N. Security Council to recognize the Guaidó government.
Russia has served as the Maduro government’s primary political and military backer, even though
Venezuela’s economic collapse since 2014 has made the country unable to purchase the type of
weaponry purchased under Hugo Chávez.72 A February 2019 Defense Intel igence Agency report
to Congress stated that Russia’s defense cooperation with Venezuela focuses on equipment sales,
maintenance support, training, naval and air deployments, and probably intel igence
cooperation.73 In March 2019, Russia deployed military personnel to Venezuela, which it argued
was for maintenance of Russian-made military equipment. This deployment drew strong criticism
from President Trump.74 Russia, which has both economic and geostrategic interests in
Venezuela,75 has supported Venezuela’s struggling oil industry and has helped Venezuela evade
U.S. oil sanctions. In response, the Treasury Department sanctioned two subsidiaries of Russia’s
Rosneft oil company in 2020. Russia also has used Venezuela as a platform from which to spread
propaganda, disinformation, and Russia-related media.76
China and Cuba support the Maduro government for various reasons. Some observers maintain
that China’s interest in Venezuela is primarily economic. Others argue that the Chinese have
exported technology to help the Maduro government surveil its citizens, block its critics on social
media and elsewhere, and deny food and services to those who do not vote in its favor.77 Since
2000, Cuba has provided military and intel igence support to the Chávez and later Maduro
governments in exchange for subsidized oil.78 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo maintained in

Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Argentina withdrew from t he Lima Group in March 2021.
71 Within the Western Hemisphere, the United States has supported efforts by the OAS to hasten a return to democracy
in Venezuela and worked with OAS allies to invoke the Rio T reaty , enabling signatory countries to ban travel and
freeze assets of certain individuals and entities associated with the Maduro government. CRS Insight IN11116, The
Inter-Am erican Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance and the Crisis in Venezuela
, by Peter J. Meyer.
72 Under Chávez, the value of Venezuela’s arms purchases signed in 2005 -2007 reached $3.6 billion. Sergey
Denisentsev, “ Russian-Venezuelan Defense Cooperation,” Center for Analysis of Strategy and T echnology, June 2019.
73 Defense Intelligence Agency, Report to Congress on Russia: Defense Cooperation with Cuba, Nicaragua, and
, as required by the Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act
(NDAA), February 4, 2019.
74 Reuters, “Russian Military Specialists Arrive in Venezuela to Service Equipment,” September 25, 2019; and AP,
“US Condemns Russia T roop Deployment to T roubled Venezuela,” March 31, 2019.
75 See Vladimir Rouvinski, Russian-Venezuelan Relations at a Crossroads, Woodrow Wilson Center, February 5,
2019; and V. Rouvinski, Russia’s Continuing Engagem ent with Venezuela in 2019 and Beyond-An Update, Woodrow
Wilson Center, February 18, 2020.
76 U.S. Department of State, Report to Congress on Threat Assessment of Russian-Venezuelan Security Cooperation as
required by Section 165(b)(2) of the VERDAD Act of 2019, contained within Div. J of P.L. 116-94, February 24, 2020;
and U.S. Department of State, Global Engagement Center , Pillars of Russia’s Disinform ation and Propaganda
, August 2020.
77 Stephen Kaplan and Michael Penfold, “ China-Venezuela Economic Relations: Hedging Venezuelan Bets with
Chinese Characteristics,” Woodrow Wilson Center, February 20, 2019; Angus Berwick, “ How ZT E Helps Venezuela
Create China-Style Social Control,” Reuters, November 14, 2018; Freedom House, “ Freedom on the Net 2019:
Venezuela”; and U.S. Congress, The New Big Brother: China and Digital Authoritarianism , democratic staff report
prepared for the use of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, July 21, 2020.
78 Brian Fonseca, John Polga-Hecimovich, and Dr. Richard E. Feinberg, Venezuela and Cuba: The Ties That Bind,
Woodrow Wilson Center, January 2020.
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2019 that there were some 2,300 Cuban security personnel in Venezuela involved in providing
security for Maduro and training Venezuela’s security forces in “torture tactics, domestic spying
techniques, and mechanisms of repression.”79 Over time, Cuban intel igence has helped its
Venezuelan counterparts become particularly adept at detecting dissidents within the military.80
Among the other countries that support the Maduro regime, Turkey has purchased large quantities
of Venezuelan gold, despite U.S. sanctions.81 Iran has sent tankers of gasoline in exchange for
gold, despite U.S. sanctions on both countries; provided humanitarian aid; helped rebuild a
refinery; and established a supermarket conglomerate in Venezuela.82 Iranian-Venezuelan fuel
swaps have begun to occur more frequently.83
U.S. Policy
The United States historical y had close relations with Venezuela, a major U.S. foreign oil
supplier, but friction in relations increased under the Chávez government and has intensified
under the Maduro government. For more than a decade, U.S. policymakers have had concerns
about the deterioration of human rights and democratic conditions in Venezuela and the lack of
bilateral cooperation on counternarcotics and counterterrorism efforts. During this time, Congress
has provided funding to support democratic civil society in Venezuela. As the Maduro
government has become increasingly authoritarian, the Obama and Trump Administrations turned
to sanctions, first targeted on specific officials and then aimed at broader sectors of the economy,
the Maduro government, and most recently, entities supporting that government.
U.S. policy has toughened since the U.S. government ceased to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s
legitimate president in January 2019. After recognizing the Guaidó government in January 2019,
the Trump Administration coordinated most of its efforts with Interim President Guaidó. In early
2019, President Trump and other officials suggested that U.S. military intervention in Venezuela
was a possibility.84 After U.S. al ies, including in the EU and the Lima Group, and Members of
Congress expressed opposition to that prospect, such statements became less frequent.85
During the Trump Administration, U.S. strategy emphasized diplomatic efforts to bolster support
for Guaidó and isolate Maduro; targeted sanctions and visa revocations on Maduro government
officials and their families, along with broader sanctions on the economy and government;
assistance for the Venezuelan people; and actions to cut off the Maduro government’s il icit

79 U.S. Department of State, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, “Interview with Margaret Brennan of CBS Face
the Nation
,” May 5, 2019; and U.S. Department of State, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, “ Remarks to the
Press,” March 11, 2019.
80 Angus Berwick, “ Special Report: How Cuba T aught Venezuela to Quash Military Dissent,” Reuters, August 22,
81 Mayela Armas and Corina Pons, “Exclusive: Venezuela Removed Six T onnes of Central Bank Gold at T urn of
Year—Sources,” Reuters, March 12, 2020.
82 Ian T alley and Benoit Falcon, “ Iranian Military-Owned Conglomerate Sets Up Shop in Venezuela,” Wall Street
, July 5, 2020.
83 Deisy Buitrago, Marianna Parraga, “Exclusive: ‘Perfect T rips’ - Venezuela Ships Jet Fuel to Iran in Exchange for
Gasoline, Sources say,” Reuters, February 23, 2021.
84 T he White House, “ Remarks by President T rump to the Venezuelan American Community ,” February 18, 2019
85 T hen-Secretary of State Michael Pompeo denied any U.S. involvement in the botched raid against Maduro in May
2020. See Karen DeYoung, Anthony Faiola, and Alex Horton. “ U.S. Denies Involvement in Alleged Venezuela
Invasion Attempt as Details Remain Murky,” Washington Post, May 6, 2020.
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revenue sources.86 In March 2020, the Administration issued a “democratic transition framework”
backed by Guaidó. The framework would have lifted certain sanctions in exchange for Maduro
releasing political prisoners, having foreign security forces leave the country, and al owing the
creation of a Council of State to carry out presidential duties until elections could be held. U.S.
insistence that Maduro leave office prior to the convening of new elections and reticence to bac k
negotiations eventual y drove a wedge between U.S. and EU positions on Venezuela.87
To date, U.S. efforts have failed to dislodge Maduro and enable the convening of free and fair
elections, raising questions for the Biden Administration on whether to intensify, roll back, or
otherwise change U.S. policy. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken with Interim
President Guaidó.88 Senior U.S. officials have said the Biden Administration aims to focus on
supporting the Venezuelan people and engaging in multilateral diplomacy to press for a return to
democracy and hold corrupt and abusive Maduro officials accountable for their actions.89 On
March 8, 2021, the Biden Administration designated Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status
(TPS) for 18 months (see “Temporary Protected Status for Venezuela,” below).90
Many analysts maintain that restoring a more unified position on Venezuela with al ied European
and Latin American nations wil be an important task for the Biden Administration.91 Biden
officials are reviewing existing sanctions and reportedly are assessing whether the Maduro
government is wil ing to al ow increased humanitarian access, the selection of a more balanced
electoral council, and a return to Norway-led talks.92 Some policy experts have urged the
Administration to offer sanctions relief in exchange for specific actions by the Maduro
government, such as the release of political prisoners.93 In exchange for an openness to review
sectoral sanctions, the Administration could seek more targeted sanctions from other countries on
Venezuelan officials and their families, asset forfeitures and indictments of Maduro officials and
enablers, and humanitarian assistance for U.N. appeals on Venezuela.94 The Biden Administration
has rejoined the U.N. Human Rights Council, in part to keep its attention on abuses in countries
such as Venezuela.95 Some experts have urged Biden officials to work with the EU-led
International Contact Group in backing a negotiated solution to the Venezuela crisis and to seek
areas of “mutual interest” on Venezuela with China and Russia.96

86 U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Government Support for the Democratic Aspirations of the Venezuelan People,”
accessed August 17; 2020; and T estimony of Elliott A. Abrams, Special Representative for Venezuela, U.S.
Department of State, in U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Fo reign Relations, August 4, 2020.
87 Elliott Abrams, “ T he EU T ries and Fails Again on Venezuela,” Foreign Policy, February 3, 2021.
88 U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson, “Secretary Blinken’s Call with Venezuelan Interim President
Guaidó,” March 2, 2021.
89 White House, “Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on Venezuela,” March 8, 2021.
90 U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), “Secretary Mayorkas Designates Venezuela for T emporary Protected
Status for 18 Months,” March 8, 2021.
91 Paul Angelo, Synchronizing with Europe on the Venezuela Crisis, Council on Foreign Relations, September 28,
92 Joshua Goodman, “US Weighs Policy on Venezuela as Maduro Signals Flexibility,” AP. April 27, 2021.
93 Christopher Sabatini, “Can Biden Succeed Where T rump’s Venezuela Policy Failed? World Politics Review, January
27, 2021.
94 Ryan C. Berg and Jorge González-Gallarza, Europe’s Last Chance: How the EU Can (and Should) Become the
Primary Actor in Venezuela’s Democratic Restoration,
American Enterprise Institute, March 2021.
95 U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson, “Key Outcomes at the 46th Session of the U.N. Human Rights
Council,” March 23, 2021.
96 Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde, Recalibrating U.S. Policy in Venezuela: Learning from Failure and Seizing
, Washington Office on Latin America, December 2020.
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The 116th Congress supported the Trump Administration’s efforts to promote a restoration of
democracy in Venezuela without the use of military force and to provide humanitarian assistance
to Venezuelans. Some Members expressed concerns about the humanitarian impact of broad U.S.
economic sanctions. Congress enacted legislation to guide U.S. policy on Venezuela, including
P.L. 116-94, which appropriated $30 mil ion in FY2020 for democracy programs in Venezuela
and incorporated the Senate-reported version of the VERDAD Act (S. 1025), a comprehensive
bil to address the crisis in Venezuela (see Appendix A). Congress appropriated not less than $33
mil ion for democracy programs in Venezuela and an unspecified amount of humanitarian support
for countries sheltering Venezuelan refugees. Congress also conducted numerous oversight
hearings on U.S. policy toward Venezuela.
The 117th Congress is likely to provide input to the Biden Administration in sanctioning human
rights abuses, corruption, and antidemocratic actions by the Maduro government and its backers,
as wel as how to balance sectoral sanctions with humanitarian concerns. Congress may examine
new policy approaches by the Biden Administration and further legislative options, such as
additional sanctions against the Maduro government and its foreign enablers or humanitarian
assistance to Venezuelans.
U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela97
The United States has increasingly employed sanctions as a policy tool in response to activities of
the Venezuelan government and Venezuelan individuals. As the political and economic crisis in
Venezuela has deepened, the Trump Administration significantly expanded sanctions on
Venezuela, relying on both existing authorities and new executive orders. Beginning in August
2017, those executive orders established financial sanctions on the Maduro government
(including PdVSA), created economic sanctions on sectors of the economy, and prohibited
unlicensed transactions with the Maduro government. The Trump Administration cited the
Maduro government’s human rights abuses, usurpation of power from the National Assembly,
and rampant corruption as reasons for expanding U.S. sanctions.
Visa Revocations and Sanctions on Individuals. Since January 2019, the State
Department has revoked more than 1,000 visas, including those of current and
former Venezuelan officials and their families.98 The Treasury Department has
imposed financial sanctions on a total of nearly 150 Venezuela-linked individuals
for terrorism (E.O. 13224); drug trafficking (Foreign Narcotics Kingpin
Designation Act, P.L. 106-120, Title VIII; 21 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.); and/or
committing antidemocratic actions, human rights violations, or corruption (see
E.O. 13692 in 2014 as codified in P.L. 113-278 and extended in P.L. 114-194 and,
most recently, in P.L. 116-94).
Financial sanctions restricting Maduro government and state oil company,
PdVSA, access to U.S. financial markets, with certain exceptions to minimize the
impact on the Venezuelan people and U.S. economic interests (E.O. 13808 in
August 2017);99 prohibiting transactions using cryptocurrency (E.O. 13827 in
March 2018);100 and barring the purchase of Venezuelan debt or accounts

97 For more information, see CRS In Focus IF10715, Venezuela: Overview of U.S. Sanctions, by Clare Ribando Seelke.
98 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Venezuela, 116th Cong., 2nd sess., August 4, 2020.
99 E.O. 13808, “Imposing Additional Sanctions with Respect to the Situation in Venezuela,” 82 Federal Register
41155-41156, August 24, 2017.
100 E.O. 13827, “T aking Additional Steps to Address the Situation in Venezuela,” 83 Federal Register 12469-12470,
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receivable with the Venezuelan government, including PdVSA (E.O. 13835 in
May 2018).101
Sectoral sanctions blocking assets and prohibiting unlicensed transactions with
PdVSA, Venezuela’s central bank, and the state gold mining company, among
other entities (E.O. 13850 in November 2018).102
Sanctions on the Maduro government blocking assets in the United States and
prohibiting transactions with that government unless authorized as part of efforts
to aid the Venezuelan people. E.O. 13884 also authorized financial sanctions and
visa restrictions on non-U.S. persons who assist or support the Maduro
government. To al ow continued humanitarian assistance, OFAC issued licenses
authorizing transactions involving the delivery of food, agricultural commodities,
and medicine; personal remittances; the work of international organizations; and
communications services (E.O. 13884 in August 2019).103
The U.S. government has coordinated its targeted sanctions policies with the EU and Canada. The
Rio Treaty has become the means for U.S. efforts to build capacity and wil in Latin America and
the Caribbean to sanction Maduro officials.104 The Trump Administration demonstrated some
flexibility in its sanctions policy with the lifting of sanctions against the former head of
Venezuela’s intel igence service, General Manuel Cristopher Figuera, in May 2019 after he broke
ranks with Maduro. Many have questioned how wil ing or able the U.S. government would be to
lift sanctions on others, particularly for those who face U.S. criminal indictments.
Since 2017, the Trump Administration has significantly ratcheted up economic pressure on
Venezuela and on Cuba for its support of Venezuela.105 In 2020, the Department of the Treasury
imposed sanctions on two subsidiaries of Rosneft, Russia’s state-controlled oil and gas company,
for transporting Venezuelan oil and on a Chinese technology company for supplying the Maduro
government with digital surveil ance software. Treasury also has sanctioned individuals and
entities for shipping petroleum products to Venezuela in exchange for gold under the Iran
sanctions framework.
It is difficult to attribute precisely the extent of Venezuela’s economic collapse that is due to U.S.
sanctions versus broad economic mismanagement. A February 2021 Government Accountability
Office (GAO) report asserted that “sanctions, particularly on the state oil company in 2019, likely
contributed to the steeper decline of the Venezuelan economy.”106 The Maduro government has
defaulted on al its bonds, and U.S. sanctions prohibit debt restructuring with creditors.

March 19, 2018.
101 E.O. 13835, “Prohibiting Certain Additional T ransactions with Respect to Venezuela,” 83 Federal Register 24001-
24002, May 21, 2018.
102 E.O. 13850, “Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela,” 83 Federal
55243-55245, November 1, 2018.
103 Executive Order 13884, “Blocking Property of the Government of Venezuela,” 84 Federal Register 38843- August
5, 2020.
104 U.S. Department of State, Report on Developing and Implementing a Coordinated Sanctions Strategy with Partners
in the Western Hem isphere and the European Union,
February 24, 2020.
105 See CRS Report R45657, Cuba: U.S. Policy in the 116th Congress and Through the Trump Administration, by
Mark P. Sullivan.
106 Government Accountability Office (GAO), Venezuela: Additional Tracking Could Aid Treasury’s Efforts to
Mitigate Any Adverse Im pacts U.S. Sanctions Might Have on Hum anitarian Assistance
, GAO 21-239, February 2021
(hereinafter, GAO 21-239).
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In terms of the sanctions’ political effects, the imposition of targeted sanctions on individuals in
the Maduro government has not encouraged many of those who were not yet sanctioned to
abandon Maduro or changed the behavior of the sanctioned individuals. Broader U.S. sanctions
adopted since 2017 have yet to compel Maduro to leave office. They also have provided a
scapegoat on which Maduro has blamed the country’s economic problems.
U.N. officials and some Members of Congress urged the Trump Administration to ease financial
and sectoral sanctions on Venezuela, even if Maduro remained in office, so the country could
address COVID-19.107 The Administration continued to impose sanctions during the pandemic
and maintained that U.S. sanctions on Venezuela included broad exemptions and licenses to al ow
the provision of humanitarian assistance and the export of food, medicine, and medical devices.108
Humanitarian organizations receiving U.S. funds told the GAO that sanctions had made financial
transactions more chal enging even for those with exemptions and licenses and likely had
exacerbated fuel shortages and power outages in the country.109 Some in Congress have asked the
Biden Administration to restart a sanctions exemption that had al owed foreign companies to
swap diesel for Venezuelan crude oil, which ended in November 2020.110
Petroleum Sector Concerns and U.S. Economic Sanctions
Commercial oil production in Venezuela began in 1914 and accelerated in the 1920s, following
oil discoveries in Venezuela’s Maracaibo Basin.111 Several U.S. companies established
concession agreements with Venezuela’s government to invest in, explore, produce, and export
the country’s petroleum resources. By 1970, oil production in Venezuela was more than 3.7
mil ion barrels per day, making Venezuela one of the largest oil-producing countries by
volume.112 Venezuela began to take control of its petroleum assets in 1971, fully nationalizing the
sector in 1976 with the creation of PdVSA to manage the country’s petroleum resources. Oil
companies operating in Venezuela were relegated to a service-based support role.
Oil production in Venezuela declined by more than 50% between 1971 and 1988.113 In an effort to
reverse declining oil production, Venezuela embarked on a program that al owed international oil
companies—including U.S. firms Chevron, Exxon, and Conoco—to either control oil fields or
establish majority-owned joint ventures (JVs) with PdVSA.114 Policies imposed by former
President Chavez unilateral y modified contract terms contained in the production and JV

107 UN News, “Ease Sanctions Against Countries Fighting COVID-19: UN Human Rights Chief,” March 24, 2020;
Cynthia Arnson and Oriana van Praag, “ Venezuela and the Coronavirus: Another Path Is Possible,” Americas
, March 30, 2020; and Jack Dietch, “ Democrats Push Back on Sanctions, Citing Coronavirus Fears,” Foreign
March 27, 2020.
108 Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Fact Sheet: Provision of Humanitarian
Assistance and T rade to Combat COVID-19,” April 16, 2020; and U.S. Department of the T reasury, OFAC, “ Guidance
Related to the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance and Support to the Venezuelan People,” August 6, 2017.
109 GAO 21-239.
110 Letter from Senator Chris Murphy to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, March 23, 2021.
111 Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, & Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), p. 217-
112 BP, Statistical Review of World Energy, 2020.
113 Ibid.
114 For a complete list of PdVSA JV partners, see Energy Information Administration, Background Reference:
, T able 1, January 7, 2019, available at
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agreements. Some companies (e.g., Exxon, Conoco) ceased operations and filed lawsuits for
contractual violations. Other companies (e.g., Chevron) continued operating in Venezuela.
A founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC),
Venezuela general y has been considered a major oil producer and supplier. However, as of
February 2021, oil production in Venezuela was approximately 500,000 barrels per day—less
than 1% of global petroleum supply and one of the lowest volumes among OPEC members.115
Nevertheless, Venezuela’s petroleum sector, which includes the world’s largest proven oil
reserves at more than 300 bil ion barrels (more than 17% of global reserves), is a critical element
of the country’s economy.116 During calendar year 2019, the value of Venezuela’s petroleum
exports represented more than 95% of the country’s total exports.117 Oil’s predominant role in
Venezuela’s economy, combined with the United States having been a preferred oil export
destination, resulted in this sector being a target of U.S. economic sanctions.
Oil Sector Sanctions and Evolving Petroleum Trade Relationships
Sanctions targeting Venezuela’s oil sector general y began in August 2017, with the issuance of
an executive order that limited access to debt capital and prevented PdVSA from receiving cash
distributions from Citgo, its U.S.-based oil refining and marketing subsidiary.118 Oil sector
sanctions expanded in January 2019, with PdVSA added to Treasury’s Special y Designated
Nationals list.119 This action effectively prohibited U.S. persons and companies from transacting
with PdVSA, unless Treasury al ows transactions under a general license.120 The sanctions
framework also prohibited non-U.S. entities from transacting with PdVSA in U.S. dollars and
made non-U.S. subject to having their U.S. property blocked, should it be determined that they
materially assisted PdVSA.121
Following an authorized 90-day wind-down period, U.S. oil refineries ceased importing crude oil
from Venezuela (see Figure 4). Under the sanctions framework, Treasury also has sanctioned
numerous individuals, vessels, and companies involved in trading and shipping Venezuelan oil.
This progressive application of sanctions—designed to prevent export and sale of oil produced in
Venezuela—has made it more difficult, though not impossible, for PdVSA to complete petroleum
sales and export transactions.

115 Energy Information Administration, Crude Oil Production, Venezuela, Monthly, at
qb.php?category=1039874&sdid=ST EO.COPR_VE.M, accessed April 9, 2021.
116 BP, Statistical Review of World Energy, 2020.
117 Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Venezuela Facts and Figures, at
opec_web/en/about_us/171.htm, accessed March 29, 2021.
118 E.O. 13808, “Imposing Additional Sanctions With Respect to the Situation in Venezuela,” 82 Federal Register
41155, August 29, 2017.
119 T reasury’s designation was pursuant to E.O. 13850. For additional information, see U.S. Department of the
T reasury, “Issuance of a New Venezuela-related Executive Order and General Licenses; Venezuela-related
Designation,” January 28, 2019.
120 T o date, T reasury global licenses permit Chevron and some oilfield service companies to continue limited activities
and transactions in with PdVSA for essential operations.
121 For additional information about U.S. economic sanctions targeting Venezuela’s oil sector, see CRS Report R46213,
Oil Market Effects from U.S. Econom ic Sanctions: Iran, Russia, Venezuela , by Phillip Brown
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Figure 4. Venezuela Crude Oil Production, U.S. Imports, and
Selected Sanction Events
(January 2014-February 2021)

Source: CRS, using Venezuela crude oil production data from Bloomberg L.P. U.S. imports data from the Energy
Information Administration.
Notes: PdVSA = Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.; E.O. = executive order; bpd = barrels per day.
E.O. 13808 imposed additional sanctions based on a national emergency declared in March 2015 (E.O. 13692),
including limits imposed on PdVSA access to U.S. debt finance and a provision preventing PdVSA from receiving
cash dividends from its U.S.-based Citgo refining and marketing subsidiary.
With the United States no longer a petroleum export destination, PdVSA sought to develop other
trading relationships to monetize the value of Venezuelan oil. Russian oil trading companies (i.e.,
Rosneft Trading and TNK Trading International) were large purchasers of Venezuelan oil, which
they mostly delivered to refineries in Asia. Treasury sanctioned these companies in early 2020.
This action motivated Rosneft—an oil company controlled by the Russian government—to
reorganize its corporate ownership structure and operations in Venezuela to minimize its
sanctions exposure risk.
PdVSA has since employed other methods to facilitate oil transactions, including (1) oil sales
through a Mexico-based trading company claiming to execute an oil-for-humanitarian-aid
program; (2) oil-for-diesel fuel swap trades—authorized by Treasury until late October 2020—
with refiners located in India and Spain; (3) sales transactions through intermediate oil trading
companies; and (4) petroleum exchanges with Iran. Iran—also the target of numerous U.S.
economic sanctions—has supplied Venezuela with multiple shipments of petroleum products
(e.g., gasoline) following the imposition of sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector. Since January
2019, when exports to the United States ended, India and China have been the top two
destinations for Venezuela’s observable crude oil exports (see Figure 5).
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Figure 5. Observable Venezuela Crude Oil Exports by Destination
(January 2017-February 2021)

Source: CRS, using Bloomberg L.P. tanker tracking service data.
Notes: Export volumes represent crude oil volumes that were loaded onto tankers during each month .
Other research companies and news media organizations report higher export volumes than those reflected in
this figure. Oil exporting countries subject to U.S. economic sanctions employ various methods (i.e., ship -to-ship
transfers and disabling transponders) to conceal export volumes and destinations. Actual Venezuela crude oil
export volumes could differ from those reported by Bloomberg L.P.
Oil Market and Price Effects122
Notable sanctions-related effects on the global oil market include lower Venezuelan oil
production and the elimination of U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude oil (see Figure 4).
Attributing a precise volumetric effect on Venezuela’s oil production is difficult, as production in
the country was declining prior to the imposition of oil sector sanctions.123 Nevertheless, data
suggest that production declines accelerated following sanctions targeting Venezuela’s oil sector.
Lower global oil supply general y results in upward price pressure for crude oil and petroleum
products. Venezuela’s oil production decline of approximately 1.5 mil ion bpd (August 2017 to
February 2021) is large enough to potential y affect prices. However, numerous factors (e.g.,
demand/supply balances, OPEC production decisions, and general economic conditions) can
influence oil and petroleum product prices. As a result, it is difficult to quantify effects on crude
oil and petroleum product (e.g., gasoline) prices directly attributable to U.S. economic sanctions.
Changes to U.S. refinery imports of Venezuelan crude oil are quantifiable. Prior to the start of oil
sector sanctions, U.S. refineries imported between 500,000 and 700,000 barrels per day of crude
oil from Venezuela. Crude oil imports from Venezuela ended in April 2019. Refineries that
previously purchased crude oil from PdVSA were required to source alternative crude oils from

122 For additional information about how sanctions affect oil markets and prices, see CRS Report R46213, Oil Market
Effects from U.S. Econom ic Sanctions: Iran, Russia, Venezuela
, by Phillip Brown.
123 For additional information about the impact of U.S. sanctions on the Venezuelan economy, see Government
Accountability Office, Venezuela: Additional Tracking Could Aid Treasury’s Efforts to Mitigate Any Adverse Im pacts
U.S. Sanctions Might Have on Hum anitarian Assistance
, February 2021.
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other suppliers. As the market adjusted to this sanctions-related supply constraint, elevated
regional spot prices—relative to other crude oil prices—indicated that substitute crude oils were
temporarily in short supply.124
Petroleum Sector Outlook
With proven oil resources and wel -known geology, oil production in Venezuela could return to,
or possibly exceed, pre-sanctions levels of approximately 2 mil ion bpd. However, the condition
of Venezuela’s petroleum assets (e.g., oil reservoirs, upgrading facilities, pipelines, refineries, and
ports) could present chal enges for a complete sector recovery.125 President Maduro aims to
increase oil production to 1.5 mil ion barrels per day with “new production, financing and
marketing mechanisms,” according to a PdVSA announcement.126 Details of Maduro’s plan are
limited, though the plan may al ow oil companies more control over production activities. In
March 2021, Venezuela announced agreements with Russia to cooperate in several areas,
including the oil sector.127 However, International Energy Agency forecasts—assuming that
Maduro remains in power and U.S. sanctions continue—indicate that oil production may remain
near 500,000 bpd until 2026.128 Continuation and enforcement of U.S. sanctions could affect the
sector’s future. Additional y, investment capital, technical expertise, and human resources may be
needed to support sector restoration.
Temporary Protected Status for Venezuela129
The 116th Congress considered legislation that would have designated Venezuela for TPS. In July
2019, the House passed H.R. 549, which would have al owed certain Venezuelan nationals
residing in the United States to qualify for TPS, which would have prevented their removal from
the United States and al owed them to obtain employment and travel authorization. In July 2020,
a Senate effort to pass H.R. 549 by unanimous consent failed. The Trump Administration did not
formal y support TPS for Venezuelans, though Trump Administration officials asserted that
Venezuelans were not being subject to removal.130 On January 19, 2021, President Trump granted
Deferred Enforced Departure to Venezuelans in the United States for 18 months, protecting them
from removal and making them eligible to apply for work authorization.131

124 For additional information about price differentials, see oc31964656
125 For additional information about Venezuela’s oil sector, see Hernandez, I. & Monaldi, F., 2016. Weathering
Collapse: An Assessm ent of the Financial and Operational Situation of the Venezuelan Oil Industry .

126 PdVSA, “Presidente Maduro: tenemos la meta de producir 1 millón 500 mil barriles diarios,” January 15, 2021.
127 PdVSA, “Rusia y Venezuela suscriben instrumentos jurídicos para fortalecer cooperación estratégica,” March 31,
128 International Energy Agency, Oil 2021: Analysis and Forecast to 2026, March 2021.
129 Congress created T emporary Protected Status (T PS) in 1990 (P.L. 101-649) to provide work authorization and relief
from removal for foreign nationals in the United States from countries experiencing armed conflict, natural disaster, or
other extraordinary conditions that prevent their safe return. H.R. 549 would have added Venezuela to the list of
countries designated for T PS. T his designation would have lasted for 18 months and could have been extended by the
Secretary of Homeland Security. Venezuelans who had been continuously present in the United States since the date of
enactment and who met certain other requirements would have been eligible to apply for T PS. See CRS Report
RS20844, Tem porary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure, by Jill H. Wilson.
130 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Venezuela, 116th Cong., 2nd sess., August 4, 2020.
131 White House (President T rump), Office of the Press Secretary, “Deferred Enforced Departure for Certain
Venezuelans,” presidential memorandum for the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security, January
19, 2021.
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On March 8, 2021, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas designated Venezuela for
TPS for a period of 18 months on the basis of extraordinary and temporary conditions.132 In the
March 2021 Federal Register notice announcing a new TPS designation for Venezuela, Secretary
Mayorkas cited many of those conditions, including “economic contraction; inflation and
hyperinflation; deepening poverty; high levels of unemployment; reduced access to and shortages
of food and medicine,... among many others.”133 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
estimates that approximately 323,000 individuals are eligible to file applications for TPS under
the designation of Venezuela.134
U.S. Assistance
Humanitarian Assistance (Including COVID-19 Assistance)135
Since FY2017, the U.S. government has provided more than $1 bil ion in humanitarian and
emergency food assistance in response to the Venezuela regional crisis (as of December 2020).136
For FY2020, this included $528.5 mil ion to support Venezuelan refugees and migrants who fled
to other countries (or for the communities hosting them) and $94.3 mil ion for humanitarian relief
activities inside Venezuela.137 The U.S. military has twice deployed a naval hospital ship on
medical support deployments. In addition, as of December 2020, the United States had provided
nearly $13.7 mil ion for the COVID-19 response in Venezuela and $33.6 mil ion for COVID-19
in the region. U.S. officials and Members of Congress have praised the April 2021 agreement
al owing WFP to establish a humanitarian presence inside Venezuela.138
In keeping with international humanitarian standards, U.S. humanitarian assistance is general y
provided on the basis of need and according to principles of universality, impartiality, and
independence.139 However, a recent USAID Office of Inspector General report assesses some of
the chal enges USAID faces in responding to the Venezuela regional crisis, identifies areas of
fraud risk in the humanitarian response, and makes recommendations to strengthen and improve
USAID’s approach.140

132 See Immigration and Nationality Act, §244(b)(1)(C).
133 DHS, “Designation of Venezuela for T emporary Protected Status and Implementation of Employment Authorization
for Venezuelans Covered by Deferred Enforced Departure,” 86 Federal Register 13574-13581, March 9, 2021.
134 Ibid.
135 Written by Rhoda Margesson, Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy.
136 As with international humanitarian standards, U.S. humanitarian assistance is provided on the basis of need and
according to principles of universality, impartiality, and indep endence.
137 USAID, “Venezuela Regional Crisis,” fact sheet #2, March 25, 2021.
138 USAID, “USAID Welcomes Agreement Allowing the U.N. World Food Program to Provide Food Assistance in
Venezuela,” April 29, 2021; Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Chairman Menendez on WFP Agreement to Begin
Operating in Venezuela,” April 20, 2021.
139 USAID, Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Policy for Humanitarian Action, October 2015. In February 2019, at
the request of Interim President Guiadó, the U.S. government pre-positioned assistance (food, health, hygiene, and
nutrition commodities) for the Venezuelan people on the Colombia- and Brazil-Venezuela borders. Security forces
loyal to Maduro prevented the delivery of the h umanitarian assistance. A broad range of humanitarian organizations,
including U.N. entities, expressed concern not just about the many logistical and security problems in delivering
assistance to Venezuela but also about the prospect of humanitarian aid being used as a tool in a political contest.
140 USAID, Office of Inspector General, Enhanced Processes and Implementer Requirements Are Needed to Address
Challenges and Fraud Risks in USAID’s Venezuela Response
, Audit Report 9-000-21-005-P, April 16, 2021.
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Democracy, Development, and Global Health-Related Assistance
For more almost two decades, the United States has provided democracy-related assistance to
Venezuelan civil society through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and
the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
From FY2002 to FY2010, USAID supported smal -grant and technical assistance activities
through its Office of Transition Initiatives to provide assistance monitoring democratic stability
and strengthening the county’s democratic institutions. USAID’s Latin America and Caribbean
Bureau assumed control over those programs in FY2010. Since FY2010, USAID democracy
programs in Venezuela have been funded primarily through the Economic Support Fund (ESF)
account. U.S. democracy and human rights assistance appropriated to Venezuela amounted to $30
mil ion in FY2020 (P.L. 116-94) and at least $33 mil ion in FY2021 (P.L. 116-260).
Table 1. U.S. Foreign Assistance to Venezuela by Account: FY2017-FY2021
(appropriations in mil ions of current U.S. dol ars)
Sources: U.S. Department of State, Congressional Budget Justifications for Foreign Operations, FY2017-FY2021; P.L.
116-260; U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Congressional Notification (CN) #16, December
11, 2017; CN# 34, January 12, 2018; CN# 23, January 28, 2019; CN# 125, May 14, 2019; CN #156, July 11,
2019; CN#157, July 11, 2019; CN #219, September 5, 2019; CN #224, September 9, 2019; CN #229,
September 11, 2019; CN #233, September 11, 2019; CN #243, August 9, 2019; CN #20, February 28, 2020; CN
#165, April 24, 2020; CN $259, August 6, 2020.
Notes: DA = Development Assistance; DF = Democracy Fund; ESF = Economic Support Fund; ESDF =
Economic Support and Development Fund; GHP = Global Health Programs.
a. These totals do not include economic and development assistance funds that have been provided to support
countries that are sheltering Venezuelan refugees and migrants.
b. This total includes $450,000 in ESF notified on August 6, 2020, to combat il egal y armed groups in
USAID signed a bilateral agreement with the Guaidó government in October 2019 to expand its
democracy and human rights-related programs in Venezuela and to start new health and
agriculture programs. This expansion in programming supported the interim government’s goals
to facilitate a transition to democracy and to start rebuilding key sectors damaged by the
economic crisis. Although most of the assistance supported programs in Venezuela, some also
funded work-related travel, salaries, and secure communications systems for interim government
officials and staff. In addition to the democracy-related ESF assistance appropriated by Congress,
the Administration reprogrammed additional Development Assistance, Global Health Program,
and Democracy Fund assistance (see Table 1). The funding is being administered primarily
through third-party contractors. Should a political transition occur, the State Department and
USAID have developed plans to support the interim government’s transition plan, Plan País.
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For FY2021, the Administration requested $5 mil ion in global health assistance for Venezuela
and $200 mil ion to support a democratic transition in Venezuela, as wel as humanitarian
assistance for Venezuelans who have fled and the communities hosting them. The Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260), provided not less than $33 mil ion in ESF assistance for
democracy programs in Venezuela and an unspecified level of humanitarian support for countries
sheltering Venezuelan refugees.
The NED has funded democracy projects in Venezuela since 1992. U.S. funding for the NED is
provided in the annual State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations measure, but
country al ocations for the NED are not specified in the legislation. In 2019, the NED funded 41
projects in Venezuela totaling more than $2.5 mil ion.
U.S. Efforts to Combat Illicit Revenue Sources
While financial sanctions have sought to limit Maduro’s licit revenue sources and punish those
who have stolen bil ions from PdVSA and government programs, criminal investigations and
antidrug operations have targeted il icit revenue earned by the Maduro government.
Venezuela is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world. In 2020, Venezuela ranked
176th out of 180 countries covered in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
High-level officials, many from the military, reportedly formed a drug trafficking organization
(the Cartel of the Suns) in the early 2000s and have engaged in crimes such as il egal gold
mining, weapons trafficking, and money laundering.141 These criminal networks have linkages to
foreign terrorist organizations such as the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The
Maduro government al egedly also has ties to Hezbollah through various intermediaries (see
“U.S. Concerns About Terrorism”).142
U.S. Indictment of Top Venezuelan Officials
On March 26, 2020, then-Attorney General Wil iam Barr announced the indictment of Venezuela’s leader, Nicolás
Maduro, and 14 other current and former high-ranking Venezuelan officials. As charged, Maduro al egedly
participated in the Cartel of the Suns drug trafficking organization in conspiracy with the Colombian terrorist
organization the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to produce and traffic il icit drugs to the
United States. Some 12 of the 18 individuals also are subject to U.S. sanctions (related to the situation in
Venezuela, narcotics trafficking, or both). In addition to narcoterrorism conspiracy, the charges include drug
trafficking, money laundering, and weapons charges. The State Department is offering a total of up to $55 mil ion
for information leading to the arrest, conviction, or both of five of these individuals (including Maduro) .
Venezuela’s instability, weak institutions, extensive 1,370-mile border with Colombia, and
general lawlessness have attracted the attention of il egal y armed groups. The ELN, which is stil
engaged in armed conflict in Colombia, and its rival, the Popular Liberation Army (ELP),
reportedly recruit Venezuelans to cultivate coca, the plant component of cocaine.143 The ELN has
taken over much of Guajira state.144 The Rastrojos, a criminal group of former Colombian
paramilitaries, reportedly controls important gasoline smuggling routes between Venezuela and

141 A May 2018 report by Insight Crime identified more than 120 high-level Venezuelan officials who have engaged in
criminal activity. Insight Crime, Venezuela: A Mafia State? May 2018.
142 “Cape Verde Court Approves US Extradition of Maduro Financier for Money Laundering,” Jurist, August 6, 2020.
143 Helen Murphy and Luis Jaime Acosta, “Exclusive: Colombian Armed Groups Recruiting Desperate Venezuelans,
Army Says,” Reuters, June 20, 2019.
144 Anatoly Kurmanaev, “T errorist Group Steps into Venezuela as Lawlessness Grows,” New York Times, April 26,
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Colombia. A February 2020 International Crisis Group study maintains that both FARC dissidents
and ELN fighters are heavily involved in il egal gold mining.145 Violence among these groups has
escalated in recent years. In March 2021, Venezuelan security forces launched an operation,
which analysts maintain was intended to attack a dissident FARC faction that may have violated a
drug trafficking arrangement, in Apure (see Figure 1). The forces reportedly committed human
rights abuses against civilians as ongoing clashes prompted thousands to flee into Arauca,
Colombia. Those clashes also may have resulted in soldiers’ deaths.146
Counternarcotics and U.S. Antidrug Prosecutions and Operations
Venezuela is a major transit route for cocaine destined for the United States. In 2005, Venezuela
suspended its counternarcotics cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.147
Since 2005, Venezuela has been designated annual y as a country that has failed to adhere to its
international antidrug obligations, pursuant to international drug-control certification procedures
in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, FY2003 (P.L. 107-228). Most recently, in September
2020, President Trump again designated Venezuela as a country not adhering to its antidrug
obligations.148 At the same time, President Trump waived economic sanctions that would have
curtailed U.S. assistance for democracy programs.
The State Department reported in its International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR)
covering 2020 that Venezuela was one of the preferred trafficking routes for the transit of il icit
drugs out of South America, especial y cocaine. According to the INCSR, Venezuelan authorities
“failed to make any efforts to combat il egal drug activity and prosecute corrupt officials or
suspected drug traffickers.”149 In March 2021 congressional testimony, Admiral Craig Fal er,
Commander of U.S. Southern Command, asserted that drug trafficking flowing out of Venezuela
increased 145% from 2015 to 2019.150
U.S. authorities have taken action against Maduro officials and their relatives involved in drug
trafficking and related crimes.151 On March 2, 2020, the Spanish government approved the
extradition of Venezuela’s former intel igence chief, Hugo Carvajal, to the United States to stand
trial for drug and weapons trafficking. In March 2019, a U.S. court charged former Vice President
Tareck el Aissami with violating the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Act. In December 2017, two

145 International Crisis Group, A Glut of Arms: Curbing the Threat to Venezuela from Violent Groups, February 2020.
146 Steven Grattan, Anthony Faiola, and Ana Vanessa Herrero, “Venezuelan Military Offensive Sends T housands
Fleeing, Recharging One of the World’s Worst Refugee Crises,” Washington Post, April 1, 2021; Latin News Daily,
“Venezuela: Soldiers Killed in Latest Apure Clashes,” April 27, 2021.
147 T he Venezuelan government ended cooperation after alleging that U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents
were spying on the government, charges U.S. officials dismissed as baseless. Prior to that time, the governments had
negotiated an antidrug cooperation agreement (an addendum to a 1978 Bilateral Counternarcotics agreement) that
would have enhanced information-sharing and antidrug cooperation. Venezuela never approved that agreement.
148 T he White House, “Presidential Determination—Major Drug T ransit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for
Fiscal Year 2021,” September 16, 2020.
149 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, 2020 INCSR, March
2021, vol. 1.
150 Statement of Admiral Craig Faller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, in U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on
Armed Services, 117th Cong., 1st sess., March 16, 2021.
151 Sources for this paragraph include Reuters, “Spain Approves Extradition of Venezuela’s Ex -spy Chief to the United
States,” March 3, 2020; and Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York,
“Venezuelan Minister And Former Vice President T areck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah Charged With Violations of the
Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act ,” March 8, 2019.
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nephews of First Lady Cilia Flores were sentenced to 18 years in a U.S. federal prison for
conspiring to transport cocaine into the United States.
On April 1, 2020, additional U.S. naval counterdrug assets were deployed to the Caribbean. With
cooperation from partner governments, the operation aimed, in part, to curb drug trafficking
emanating from Venezuela. By August 2020, the operation had seized more than 100 metric tons
of cocaine and denied the Maduro government $3 bil ion in il icit revenue.152
Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture
In addition to drug trafficking, the INCSR discusses Venezuela’s high level of vulnerability to
money laundering and other financial crimes. According to the report, money laundering is
widespread in the country and worsened in 2020 as the Maduro government relaxed its controls
over foreign exchange, prices, and imports. This move resulted in a rapid dollarization of the
economy and created opportunities for corruption for those with dollars. Venezuela revised its
laws against organized crime and terrorist financing in 2014 but excluded the government and
state-owned industries from the scope of any investigations. The unit charged with investigating
financial crimes has limited capabilities, and there is a lack of political wil in the judicial system
to combat money laundering and corruption. There has been no improvement since the Treasury
Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an alert to financial
institutions in 2019 on transactions involving public corruption in Venezuela.153
Revenue from il icit Venezuela-linked activities has been laundered into accounts, real estate, and
other industries around the world. U.S. prosecutors estimate that some $300 bil ion il -gotten
Venezuelan wealth is held in south Florida alone, primarily in real estate.154 The March 2020
indictments against senior Venezuelan officials continue DOJ’s decade-long effort to uncover
corruption involving Maduro and his associates. Since 2010, DOJ has charged several dozen
current or former officials, including a former national treasurer, senior state economic
development bank official, military officer, judge, and officials from PdVSA and its subsidiaries.
According to the State Department, the U.S. government has coordinated its efforts to identify,
confiscate, forfeit, and repatriate il icit Venezuelan assets, including through the U.S.
Departments of the Treasury, Justice, and Homeland Security.155 The Department of the
Treasury’s FinCEN is the U.S. financial intel igence unit and administrator of U.S. anti-money
laundering laws pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act. FinCEN collaborates with financial
intel igence units around the world. The Department of the Treasury’s Executive Office for Asset
Forfeiture administers the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, a federal fund for forfeitures that are the
result of actions by selected participating agencies, and DOJ administers a separate assets
forfeiture fund.156 Some observers have advocated for certain U.S. seizures of Venezuelan assets
be redistributed to a charitable trust to benefit the Venezuelan people or placed in an account for

152 Abrams testimony, August 4, 2020.
153 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, 2020 INCSR, March
2021, vol. 2.
154 Joshua Goodman, “U.S. Prosecutor in Miami T argeting Venezuela Graft Is Leaving,” AP, August 14, 2020.
155 U.S. Department of State, Report on Recovering Assets Stolen from the Venezuelan People, Section 151 (b) of the
Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (Division J). 2020.
156 T he T reasury Forfeiture Fund participating agencies are the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations
Division, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Secret Service, and
U.S. Coast Guard. For information on DOJ’s asset forfeiture fund, see
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use by a future democratical y elected government.157 The Trump Administration reportedly
permitted the Guaidó government to use $20 mil ion in forfeited assets to address the COVID-19
crisis by providing a monthly bonus to health care workers.158
The Treasury Department has helped countries develop the legal and technical capacity to block
transactions and seize assets. Analysts and U.S. officials have urged European countries and
banks to intensify their efforts to detect and seize il icit assets tied to Maduro government.159
Illegal Mining
Gold mining, both licit and il icit, has accelerated as the Venezuelan economy has collapsed in the
face of low global oil prices and an ongoing political crisis. Over the past few years, a boom in
il egal mining in Venezuela has reportedly contributed to deforestation and environmental
degradation in indigenous areas, clashes between rival criminal gangs and violence committed by
those gangs against miners whom they extort, and an outbreak of malaria (a disease that had been
eradicated).160 FARC dissidents and the ELN reportedly earn a majority of their income from
il egal gold mining; the Maduro government also has increased its involvement in the sector as
licit gold supplies have run out.161 According to the INCSR, il egal exports of gold and other
metals worth hundreds of mil ions of dollars have occurred in recent years.162 Numerous reports
suggest the il egal mining industry also causes human rights violations, including the forcible
recruitment of child labor and abuses of indigenous groups, including the Yanomami tribe.
The U.S. government has created an interagency gold working group, imposed sanctions on
individuals for their involvement in the il icit gold industry, and stepped up border security efforts
to detect il icit gold shipments out of Venezuela.163
Human Trafficking
Criminal groups, sometimes in collaboration with corrupt officials, have subjected men, women,
and children to human trafficking both within Venezuela and abroad, particularly in border
regions and the Caribbean coast.164 Within the country, victims are trafficked from rural to urban
areas to serve as prostitutes or domestic servants. Venezuelan women and girls are often
trafficked abroad for sexual exploitation, and children are trafficked for forced labor and/or are
forcibly recruited by FARC dissidents and the ELN. In 2019, researchers documented increasing

157 Michael J. Camilleri and Fen Osler Hampson, “Seize the Money of Venezuelan Kleptocrats to Help the Country and
Its People,” Washington Post, January 29, 2019.
158 Karen DeYoung and Anthony Faiola, “Venezuela: T rump Administration T aps Frozen Funds in Effort to Oust
Venezuelan Leader,” Washington Post, August 21, 2020.
159 Douglas Farah, The Maduro Regime’s Illicit Activities: A Threat to Democracy in Venezuela and Security in Latin
Am erica
, Atlantic Council, August 13, 2020.
160 Bram Ebus, “Militarization and Mining a Dangerous Mix in Venezuelan Amazon,” Mongabay, December 7, 2017;
Maria Isabel Sanchez, “Inside the Deadly World of Venezuela’s Illegal Mines,” AFP, March 19, 2017; Stephanie
Nebehay, “Malaria on Rise in Crisis-Hit Venezuela, WHO Says,” Reuters, April 24, 2018.
161 International Crisis Group, Gold and Grief in Venezuela’s Violent South, February 2019.
162 2020 INCSR, March 2021, vol. 2.
163 Atlantic Council, “T ranscript: Countering the Maduro Regime’s Global Web of Illicit Activities,” August 14, 2020.
164 U.S. Department of State, 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report: Venezuela, June 25, 2020. See also Devon Cone and
Melanie T eff, Searching for Safety: Confronting Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Venezuelan Wom en and Girls,
Refugees International, August 2019.
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sex and labor trafficking by il egal y armed groups in mining regions. Venezuelan migrants who
have fled abroad lacking identity documents are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking.
The U.S. Department of State ranked Venezuela as Tier 3 for the seventh consecutive year in its
June 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. This ranking indicates that the country does not
meet minimum standards for preventing human trafficking, nor is it making significant efforts to
do so. The Maduro government reported that it had created a special prosecutor’s office for TIP
cases and initiated proceedings against three officials complicit in a case that ended with a
shipwreck at sea of a vessel reportedly carrying 90 people. The government did not provide any
data on TIP victims assisted, prosecutions, or convictions for human trafficking. In September
2019, the Trump Administration waived TIP-related sanctions on assistance to Venezuela that
would have been triggered by that Tier 3 ranking, determining that the continuation of U.S.
democracy and human rights assistance was in the U.S. national interest. The State Department
also has notified Congress of its intention to provide $3 mil ion in FY2018 funds to help
strengthen human trafficking efforts in countries bordering Venezuela.165
U.S. Concerns About Terrorism
Since 2006, the Secretary of State has determined annual y that Venezuela has not been
“cooperating fully with United States antiterrorism efforts” pursuant to Section 40A of the Arms
Export Control Act (AECA). Per the AECA, such a designation subjects Venezuela to a U.S. arms
embargo, which prohibits al U.S. commercial arms sales and retransfers to Venezuela. The most
recent determination was made in May 2020 and published on June 2, 2020.166
In 2008, the Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions (asset freezing and prohibitions on
transactions) on two individuals and two travel agencies in Venezuela for providing financial
support to Hezbollah, which the Department of State has designated a Foreign Terrorist
Organization. The action was taken pursuant to E.O. 13224, aimed at impeding terrorist funding.
According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2019, Venezuela has a
permissive environment for known terrorist groups, including FARC dissidents, the Colombian-
origin ELN, and sympathizers of Lebanese Hezbollah. In particular, the report maintained that
financial ties with FARC dissidents and the ELN facilitated the Maduro government’s corruption
and graft schemes. The State Department noted reports of sporadic cooperation between FARC
dissidents and the ELN in the areas of road and border checkpoints, forced displacement of
vulnerable indigenous communities, and trafficking of il egal narcotics and gold.167
According to several DOJ indictments, there are al eged links between the Maduro government
and Hezbollah through a few key intermediaries. One of them, Alex Saab, a Colombian subject to
U.S. sanctions, is in the process of being extradited from Cape Verde to face U.S. money
laundering charges.168 The DOJ also has charged a former Venezuelan legislator, Adel el Zabayar,

165 U.S. Department of State, CN #218, August 15, 2019.
166 U.S. Department of State. Public Notice 11131, “Determination and Certification of Countries Not Cooperating
Fully with United States Antiterrorism Efforts,” Federal Register 2020-11858, June 2, 2020.
167 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2019, June 24, 2020.
168 Cape Verde’s Supreme Court has approved Saab’s extradition to the United States. DOJ, “United States v. Alex
Nain Saab Moran, Docket No. 19-CR-20450-RNS,” July 25, 2019; Barry Hatton, “ West African Court Allows
Extradition to US of Venezuelan,” AP, March 17, 2021.
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with involvement in weapons for cocaine negotiations between the FARC and Hezbollah and
Hamas.169 Analysts have criticized the indictment for failing to provide conclusive evidence.170
Some Members of Congress have cal ed for Venezuela to be designated as a state sponsor of
terror. This designation would trigger an array of sanctions, including aid restrictions,
requirement for validated export licenses for dual-use items, and other financial restrictions.
Critics caution there is a lack of evidence to conclude that the Venezuelan government has
“repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” as required by law.
The situation in Venezuela continues to represent a major foreign policy chal enge for the United
States. Two years after the United States ceased to recognize Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate
president of Venezuela, Maduro stil appears firmly entrenched in power. Meanwhile, the
opposition—once united behind Juan Guaidó—has fractured. Although the Guaidó-led opposition
remains focused on obtaining adequate conditions for free and fair presidential and legislative
elections, Henrique Capriles and other opposition leaders appear to be focused on fielding
candidates in the 2021 regional and local elections. Venezuelan civil society has put forth a list of
potential candidates for a new electoral council, the first step in what may be a long process to
rebuild the institutions necessary to one day convene elections that are more free and fair.
The failure to dislodge Maduro from power demonstrated the limits of U.S. and other
international efforts to prompt political change in Venezuela. Unilateral U.S. policies, such as oil
sanctions, arguably worsened the humanitarian crisis in the country and caused divisions within
the international coalition that once backed Guaido. Despite these developments, some analysts
urge Biden officials to maintain broad sanctions on the Maduro government and to increase U.S.
and international efforts to hold Maduro officials and their enablers accountable. Others cal on
the Biden Administration to consider the humanitarian effects of U.S. sanctions and to end any
sanctions that have unduly exacerbated the crisis. Neither policy approach is likely to prompt
immediate political change. In the meantime, ensuring humanitarian aid reaches the Venezuelan
people, both those within the country and those sheltering abroad, likely wil remain a key
priority for the United States and other donors.
The 117th Congress is likely to continue close oversight of U.S. policy toward Venezuela,
including the Biden Administration’s actions to sanction human rights abuses, corruption, and
antidemocratic actions by the Maduro government and its backers. Many Members of Congress
have praised the March 2021 designation of TPS for Venezuela. Although some in Congress
support continued pressure on the Maduro government, others support a more targeted approach,
arguing that broad sanctions have not prompted political change but have hurt the Venezuelan
people. As in the 116th Congress, some Members have advocated for an end to certain sanctions,
including a ban on oil-for-diesel swaps that has contributed to fuel shortages in the country.171
The 117th Congress may examine new policy approaches by the Biden Administration and further
legislative options, such as additional sanctions against the Maduro government and its foreign
enablers or humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans.

169 DOJ, “ Former Member Of Venezuelan National Assembly Charged With Narco -T errorism, Drug T rafficking, And
Weapons Offenses,” May 27, 2020.
170 “US Indictment Claims Venezuelan Politician Linked to Hezbollah, Hamas,” Insight Crime, May 29, 2020.
171 T imothy Gardner, “Democratic Senator Urges Biden Admin to Allow Diesel Swap in Venezuela,” Reuters, March
23, 2021.
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Appendix A. Legislation Enacted in the
116th Congress
P.L. 116-6 (H.J.Res. 31), Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019.
The measure provided $17.5
mil ion for democracy and rule of law programs for civil society groups in Venezuela. The
conference report (H.Rept. 116-9) required a strategy of how U.S. agencies are supporting
communities that are sheltering Venezuelans throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
Introduced January 22, 2019. Signed into law February 15, 2019.
P.L. 116-92 (S. 1790) National Defense Authorization Act, 2020. Similar to H.R. 2204 and S.
, Section 880 of the measure prohibits federal contracting with persons who do business with
the Maduro government. Introduced June 11, 2019. Signed into law December 20, 2019.
P.L. 116-94 (H.R. 1865), Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020. Introduced March
25, 2019, and subsequently became the legislative vehicle for eight FY2020 appropriations bil s.
Signed into law on December 20, 2019. The measure provides $30 mil ion in FY2020 assistance
for democracy programs in Venezuela. It also incorporated provisions described below from the
Senate-reported version of the VERDAD Act (S. 1025), including authorizing $400 mil ion in
FY2020 humanitarian aid to Venezuela and $17.5 mil ion in FY2020 funds to help the OAS and
civil society organizations prepare for future elections in Venezuela. The act required, among
others, a short-term U.S. humanitarian assistance strategy to address the needs of the Venezuelan
people; a report within a year on the coordination and distribution of humanitarian assistance,
including future efforts; a U.S. strategy to counter Russian influence in Venezuela; a coordinated
sanctions strategy on Venezuela with partners in the Western Hemisphere and the European
Union; a strategy to support a democratic transition in Venezuela under different scenarios
(similar to S. 2583); and a report on accountability for human rights abuses committed by the
Maduro government.
P.L. 116-283 (H.R. 6395), the National Defense Authorization Act, FY2021. H.R. 6395
introduced March 26, 2020; House passed (295-125) July 21, 2020. S. 4049 introduced June 23,
2020; Senate passed (86-14) July 23, 2020. On November 16, 2020, the Senate approved H.R.
6395, amended, by voice vote, substituting the language of S. 4049. Conference report, H.Rept.
116-617, to H.R. 6395 filed December 3. House agreed (335-78) to the conference report
December 8. Senate agreed (84-13) to the conference on December 11, 2020. Vetoed by President
December 23. House passed (322-87) over veto December 28, 2020; Senate passed (81-13) over
veto, and the measure became public law, on January 1, 2021. H.Rept. 116-617 required a
briefing for certain committees on the contents of the report required by P.L. 116-94, as wel as an
update on the crisis in Venezuela and its regional implications.
P.L. 116-260 (H.R. 133), Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. Original y introduced in
2019 as a measure to promote economic partnership and cooperation between the United States
and Mexico, H.R. 133 became the vehicle for the FY2021 omnibus appropriations measure and
other legislative acts in December 2020. Both the House and the Senate approved the final
measure on December 21, 2020, and the measure was signed into law December 27, 2020. As
approved, in Division K (Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Appropriations Act, 2021), Section 7045, provided not less than $33 mil ion in democracy
funding for programs in Venezuela, as wel as funding for countries including Colombia, Peru,
Ecuador, Curacao, and Trinidad and Tobago that are sheltering large numbers of Venezuelans.
The measure stipulated that such funds should be provided in addition to the assistance that
otherwise would be made available for those countries.
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Appendix B. Online Human Rights Reporting
on Venezuela

Table B-1. Online Human Rights Reporting on Venezuela
Amnesty International
The State of the World’s Human Rights,
Committee to Protect Journalists
Foro Penal Venezolano
Human Rights Watch
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
Annual Report of the IACHR 2018, 2019, chapter IV
includes a special report on Venezuela,
Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en
Derechos Humanos (PROVEA)
Reporters Without Borders
U.S. State Department
Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2018, March
13, 2019,
Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights
Blog hosted by the Washington Office on Latin
Source: Congressional Research Service.

Author Information

Clare Ribando Seelke, Coordinator
Rhoda Margesson
Specialist in Latin American Affairs
Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy

Rebecca M. Nelson
Phillip Brown
Specialist in International Trade and Finance
Specialist in Energy Policy

Carla Davis-Castro, Research Librarian, contributed charts and background information for this report.
Congressional Research Service

Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

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