Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations
August 26, 2020
Venezuela remains in a deep crisis under the authoritarian rule of Nicolás Maduro of the
United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Maduro, narrowly elected in 2013 after the death of
Clare Ribando Seelke,
Hugo Chávez (president, 1999-2013), began a second term on January 10, 2019, that is
Coordinator
widely considered il egitimate. Since January 2019, Juan Guaidó, president of
Specialist in Latin
Venezuela’s democratical y elected, opposition-controlled National Assembly, has
American Affairs
sought to form a transition government to serve until international y observed elections

can be held. The United States and 57 other countries recognize Guaidó as interim
Rebecca M. Nelson
president, but he has been unable to harness that diplomatic support to wrest Maduro
Specialist in International
from power.
Trade and Finance


Venezuela’s economy has collapsed. The country is plagued by hyperinflation, severe
Phillip Brown
shortages of food and medicine, and a dire humanitarian crisis that has further
Specialist in Energy Policy
deteriorated in 2020 as a result of gasoline shortages, an outbreak of Coronavirus

Disease 2019 (COVID-19), and strengthened U.S. sanctions. Maduro has blamed U.S.
Rhoda Margesson
sanctions for the economic crisis, but many observers cite economic mismanagement
Acting Section Research
and corruption as the main factors. U.N. agencies estimate that 5.1 mil ion Venezuelans
Manager
have fled the country as of August 2020, primarily to neighboring countries.



U.S. Policy
Since recognizing the Guaidó government in January 2019, the United States has coordinated its efforts with
Interim President Guaidó. U.S. strategy has emphasized diplomatic efforts to bolster support for Guaidó; targeted
sanctions and visa revocations to increase pressure on Maduro officials; broader sanctions on the state oil
company, other state-controlled companies and institutions, and the government; and humanitarian aid ($534
mil ion to countries sheltering Venezuelans and $76 mil ion for Venezuela from FY2017 through May 2020). In
October 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) signed an agreement with the Guaidó
government enabling the provision of development assistance and increased democracy assistance. In 2020, the
Administration has sanctioned companies that have transported Venezuelan oil and seized Venezuela-bound ships
carrying Iranian petroleum products in violation of sanctions. U.S. officials have vowed to keep “maximum
pressure” on Maduro and his foreign backers until he agrees to al ow a transition government to convene free and
fair legislative and presidential elections.
Congressional Action
Congress has supported the Administration’s efforts to support a restoration of democracy in Venezuela without
U.S. military intervention in the country and to provide humanitarian support to Venezuelans, although some
Members have expressed concerns about the humanitarian impact of sanctions. In December 2019, Congress
enacted P.L. 116-94, which appropriates $30 mil ion in FY2020 assistance for democracy programs in Venezuela
and incorporates the Senate-reported version of the VERDAD Act (S. 1025), a comprehensive bil to address the
crisis in Venezuela. The VERDAD Act incorporated House-passed measures authorizing FY2020 humanitarian
aid to Venezuela (H.R. 854), restricting the export of defense articles to Venezuela (H.R. 920), and requiring a
U.S. strategy to counter Russian influence in Venezuela (H.R. 1477). In December 2019, Congress also enacted
P.L. 116-92, which prohibits federal contracting with persons who do business with the Maduro government. In
July 2019, the House passed H.R. 549, designating Venezuela as a beneficiary country for temporary protected
status; however, a Senate effort to pass H.R. 549 by unanimous consent failed.
For FY2021, the Administration requested $200 mil ion in democracy aid aimed to support a democratic
transition in Venezuela and $5 mil ion in global health assistance; the House-passed version of the measure (H.R.
7608, H.Rept. 116-444) would provide $30 in democracy aid for Venezuela and support the provision of
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

additional aid if a democratic transition occurs. The House-passed version of the FY2021 National Defense
Authorization Act (H.R. 6395, H.Rept. 116-442) would require a report on the crises in Venezuela and its impacts
on U.S. and regional security.
Also see CRS In Focus IF10230, Venezuela: Political Crisis and U.S. Policy; CRS In Focus IF10715, Venezuela:
Overview of U.S. Sanctions
.
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Contents
Introduction ................................................................................................................... 1
Political Situation............................................................................................................ 2
Legacy of Hugo Chávez: 1999-2013............................................................................. 2
Maduro Government: 2013-2018 ................................................................................. 3
Interim President Recognized But Maduro Stil in Power, 2019-Present ............................. 6
Human Rights ................................................................................................................ 7
Economic Crisis............................................................................................................ 10
Maduro Government Policy Responses ....................................................................... 11
New Economic Chal enges in 2020 ............................................................................ 12
Humanitarian Situation and Response .............................................................................. 14
Displacement .......................................................................................................... 15
Coronavirus Disease 2019......................................................................................... 15

International Humanitarian Response in Venezuela ....................................................... 16
International Humanitarian Response in the Region ...................................................... 17
International Actors in Venezuela’s Crisis ......................................................................... 18
U.S. Policy................................................................................................................... 21
U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela ..................................................................................... 22
Petroleum Sector Concerns and U.S. Economic Sanctions ............................................. 24
Limitations on Financial Access ........................................................................... 25
U.S.-Venezuela Petroleum Trade........................................................................... 26
Venezuela Petroleum Trade with Non-U.S. Entities ................................................. 26
U.S. Assistance ....................................................................................................... 29
Humanitarian Assistance (Including COVID-19 Assistance) ..................................... 29
Democracy, Development, and Global Health-Related Assistance .............................. 30
U.S. Efforts to Combat Il icit Revenue Sources ............................................................ 32
Counternarcotics and U.S. Antidrug Prosecutions and Operations .............................. 33
Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture ................................................................ 34
Il egal Mining .................................................................................................... 35
Human Trafficking ............................................................................................. 35

U.S. Concerns About Terrorism ................................................................................. 36
Outlook ....................................................................................................................... 37

Figures
Figure 1. Political Map of Venezuela .................................................................................. 2
Figure 2. Venezuela’s Gross Domestic Product .................................................................. 11
Figure 3. Venezuelan Migrants and Asylum Seekers: Flows to the Region and Beyond ............ 15
Figure 4. Venezuela Crude Oil Production and U.S. Imports ................................................ 25
Figure 5. Venezuela Crude Oil Exports ............................................................................. 28

Tables
Table 1. U.S. Foreign Assistance to Venezuela by Account: FY2017-FY2021 Request ............. 31
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Table B-1. Online Human Rights Reporting on Venezuela ................................................... 41

Appendixes
Appendix A. Legislative Initiatives in the 116th Congress .................................................... 38
Appendix B. Online Human Rights Reporting on Venezuela ................................................ 41

Contacts
Author Information ....................................................................................................... 41


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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

Introduction
Venezuela, long one of the most prosperous countries in South America with the world’s largest
proven oil reserves, continues to be in the throes of a deep, multifaceted crisis. On January 10,
2019, Nicolás Maduro of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) took office for a second
term after winning an election in May 2018 deemed il egitimate within Venezuela and by the
United States and more than 50 other countries. Maduro has resisted international pressure to
leave office in favor of the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó. The United States
and 57 other countries have recognized Guaido as interim president and support a plan to create a
transition government to serve until free and fair elections can be convened.1 Since returning
from a February 2020 international tour, which included a meeting with President Donald Trump,
Guaidó has been unable to harness his diplomatic support domestical y. Maduro is seeking to
convene new National Assembly elections in
Venezuela at a Glance
December 2020; many observers maintain that
Population: 27.5 mil ion (2019 est., IMF)
such a vote wil not meet international
Area: 912,050 square kilometers (slightly more than
standards and most opposition parties plan to
twice the size of California)
boycott the vote.
GDP: $70.1 bil ion (2019, current prices, IMF est.)
GDP Growth: -18% (2018, IMF est.); -35% (2019, IMF
U.S. relations with Venezuela, a major oil
est.)
supplier, deteriorated under the Hugo Chávez
GDP Per Capita: $2,548 (2019, current prices, IMF
government (1999-2013), which undermined
est.)
human rights, the separation of powers, and
Key Trading Partners: Exports—U.S.: 35.2%, India:
freedom of expression. U.S. concerns have
21.4%, China: 15.2%. Imports—U.S.: 51.5%, China:
deepened as the Maduro government has
15.7%, Brazil: 13.8% (2019, EIU)
manipulated democratic institutions; cracked
Unemployment: 44.3% (2019, IMF)
down on the opposition, media, and civil
Life Expectancy: 74.7 years (2017, UNDP)
society; engaged in drug trafficking and
Literacy: 97.1% (2016, UNDP)
corruption; and refused most humanitarian aid.
Legislature: National Assembly (unicameral), with
International efforts to find a political solution
167 members; National Constituent Assembly, with
to the crisis have stal ed. The Trump
545 members (United States does not recognize)
Administration has vowed to continue
Sources: Economist Intel igence Unit (EIU);
exerting pressure on Maduro until he agrees to
International Monetary Fund (IMF); United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP).
leave office and to maintain support for
Interim President Juan Guaidó regardless of
the legislative election results.2
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.

1 In the absence of an elected president, the Venezuelan Congress’s president must become acting president of a
transition government until elections can be called. Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, 1999, as
amended by Amendment No. 1 of 15 February 2009, Article 233, translation by the Ministry of Communication and
Information of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, 2010.
2 U.S. Department of State, “Briefing with Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams on Recent
Developments in U.S.-Venezuela Policy,” July 28, 2020.
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

Figure 1. Political Map of Venezuela

Source: Congressional Research Service (CRS).
Political Situation
Legacy of Hugo Chávez: 1999-20133
Venezuela had one of the most stable political systems in Latin America from 1958 until 1989.
After that period, however, numerous economic and political chal enges have plagued the
country. In 1989, then-President Carlos Andres Pérez initiated an austerity program that fueled
riots in which several hundred people were kil ed. In 1992, two attempted military coups
threatened the Pérez presidency—one led by Hugo Chávez, for which he served two years in
prison. In May 1993, the legislature dismissed Pérez from office for corruption. The election of
former President Rafael Caldera (1969-1974) as president in December 1993 brought a measure
of stability, but the government faced a severe banking crisis. A rapid decline in the world price of
oil caused a recession, which contributed to Hugo Chávez’s landslide 1998 election victory.

3 CRS Report R42989, Hugo Chávez’s Death: Implications for Venezuela and U.S. Relations, by Mark P. Sullivan;
CRS Report R43239, Venezuela: Issues for Congress, 2013-2016, by Mark P. Sullivan.
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

Under Chávez, 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 wil ingness to oppose the United States captured global attention.
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.4
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
2002.5 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.
Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, amended in 2009, centralized power in the presidency and
established five branches of government rather than the traditional three branches.6 Those
branches include the presidency, a unicameral National Assembly, a Supreme Court, a National
Electoral Council (CNE), and a “Citizen Power” oversight branch. The president is elected for
six-year terms and can be reelected indefinitely; however, he or she also may be made subject to a
recal referendum (a process that Chávez submitted to in 2004 and survived but Maduro cancel ed
in 2016). Chávez exerted influence over al the government branches, particularly after an
outgoing legislature dominated by chavistas appointed pro-Chávez justices to control the
Supreme Court in 2004 (a move that Maduro’s al ies would repeat in 2015). In addition to voters
having the power to remove a president through a recal referendum process, the National
Assembly has the constitutional authority to act as a check on presidential power.7
Maduro Government: 2013-20188
After Chávez’s death in March 2013, Venezuela held presidential elections in April. Acting
President Nicolás Maduro defeated Henrique Capriles of the Democratic Unity Roundtable
(MUD) of opposition parties by 1.5%. The opposition al eged significant irregularities and
protested the outcome; 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

4 Daniel Hellinger and Anthony Petros Spanakos, “T he Legacy of Hugo Chávez,” Latin American Perspectives, vol.
44, no. 1, January 2017, pp. 4-15.
5 Although President Chávez remained widely popular until mid-2001, his standing eroded afterward amid growing
concerns by some that he was imposing a leftist agenda on the country. In April 2002, massive protests and pressure by
the military led to the oust ing of Chávez from power for less than three days. He ultimately was restored to power by
the military after an interim president alienated the military and the public by taking hard-line measures, including the
suspension of the constitution. Human Rights Watch, “ Venezuela: Chávez’s Authoritarian Legacy,” March 5, 2013.
6 Antonio Ramirez, “An Introduction to Venezuelan Governmental Institutions and Primary Legal Sources,” New York
University Law School Library, May 2016.
7 T he National Assembly consists of a unicameral Chamber of Deputies with 167 seats whose members serve for five
years and may be reelected once. With a simple majority, the legislature can approve or reject the budget and the
issuing of debt, remove minist ers and the vice president from office, overturn enabling laws that give the president
decree powers, and appoint the five members of the CNE (for 7 -year terms) and the 32 members of the Supreme Court
(for one 12-year term). With a two-thirds majority, the assembly can remove judges, submit laws directly to a popular
referendum, and convene a constitutional assembly to revise the constitution.
8 See also CRS Report R43239, Venezuela: Issues for Congress, 2013-2016, by Mark P. Sullivan.
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

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 through August 2017, the Supreme Court
2012, when President Chávez tapped him to serve
blocked laws and assumed the legislature’s
in that position fol owing his reelection. Maduro
functions. In 2016, opposition efforts to recal
often was described as a staunch Chávez loyalist.
President Maduro in a national referendum were
Maduro’s partner since 1992 is wel -known
Chávez supporter Cilia Flores, who served as the
delayed and then suspended by the CNE. Most of
president of the National Assembly from 2006 to
the opposition (except the VP party) then entered
2011; the two married in 2013.
talks with the government mediated by the
Vatican; the former leaders of Spain, the
Dominican Republic, and Panama; and the head of the Union of South American Nations. By
December, the opposition left the talks due to the Maduro government’s failure to meet its
commitments.9
In early 2017, President Maduro appointed a hard-line vice president, Tareck el Aissami,
designated by the United States as a drug kingpin. Popular protests had dissipated. In addition to
restricting freedom of assembly, the government cracked down on media outlets and journalists.
Despite these obstacles, the MUD became reenergized in response to the Supreme Court’s March
2017 rulings to dissolve the legislature and assume al legislative functions. After domestic
protests and an outcry from the international community, President Maduro urged the court to
revise those rulings, and it complied. In April 2017, the government banned two-time presidential
candidate Henrique Capriles from seeking office for 15 years, which fueled more protests. From
March to July 2017, the opposition conducted large protests against the government, cal ing for
President Maduro to release political prisoners, respect the separation of powers, and hold an
early presidential election. Clashes between security forces (backed by armed civilian militias)
and protesters left more than 130 dead and hundreds injured.10
In May 2017, President Maduro announced that 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 that the elections
were unconstitutional; a position shared by then-Attorney General Luisa Ortega and 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).

9 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.
10 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. T he Venezuelan human rights group Foro Penal and Human Rights Watch (HRW) maintain that more than 5,300
Venezuelans were detained during the protests. Human Rights Watch, Foro Penal, Crackdown on Dissent: Brutality,
Torture, and Political Persecution in Venezuela
, November 2017.
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Even though many countries do not recognize its legitimacy, the ANC dismissed Attorney
General Ortega (who then went into exile) and declared itself the new legislative body.
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
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.11 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 Nicolás Maduro through elections. Those leaders negotiated with the United
Socialist Party of Venezuela 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, former governor of Lara, 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 increasing
international isolation. His government released some political prisoners; established as executive vice president
Delcy Rodriguez, former head of the ANC and former foreign minister; and made changes to increase Maduro’s
control over the judiciary and the intel igence services. It also arrested those perceived as threats, including
military officers and an opposition legislator accused of involvement in an August 2018 al eged assassination
attempt against Maduro. Foro Penal and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which those accused
of plotting coups were subjected to “beatings, asphyxiation and electric shocks.” The October 2018 death in
custody of Fernando Albán, an opposition politician, provoked domestic and international outrage.
Sources: José Ignacio Hernández G., “Rigged Elections: Venezuela’s Failed Presidential Election,” Electoral
Integrity Project, May 30, 2018; Human Rights Watch, “Venezuela: Suspected Plotters Tortured,” January 9,
2019.

11 Michael Penfold, Food, Technology, and Authoritarianism in Venezuela’s Elections, Woodrow Wilson Center, April
18, 2018.
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Interim President Recognized But Maduro Still in Power, 2019-
Present
On January 10, 2019, Maduro began a second term. The United States, the European Union (EU),
the Group of Seven (G-7), and most Western Hemisphere countries do not recognize his mandate
as legitimate. They view the National Assembly as Venezuela’s only democratic institution.
On January 5, 2019, the National Assembly elected Juan Guaidó, a 35-year old industrial
engineer from the VP party, as its president. In mid-January, Guaidó announced he was wil ing to
serve as interim president until new elections were held. Buoyed by a huge turnout for protests he
cal ed for, Guaidó took the oath of office on January 23, 2019. The United States and more than
50 other countries recognized Guaidó as interim president.
In 2019, Guaidó’s supporters organized two high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to get
security forces to abandon Maduro: in February, Guaidó supporters sought to bring emergency
aid into the country across borders that Maduro had closed; and on April 30, Guaidó cal ed for a
civil-military uprising.12 Guaidó and his al ies initial y hoped that sustained protests and
international pressure would lead to enough military defections to compel Maduro to leave office
relatively quickly, but those hopes have not materialized. Aside from the former head of the
national intel igence agency (General Manuel Christopher Figuera), who supported the April 30
uprising, the military high command has remained loyal to Maduro.
Analysts have speculated about why Maduro has retained the loyalty of most security forces in
Venezuela. Military leaders have enriched themselves through corruption, drug trafficking, and
other il icit industries. Some military leaders also may fear that they could face prosecution or
extradition abroad for human rights abuses under a new government. The U.S. government has
said it may remove sanctions on officials who abandon Maduro (as they did with Figuera), but
that could be difficult, depending upon the individual and sanctions involved. 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.
Many observers had hoped that talks mediated by Norway, which became public in May 2019,
could lead to a negotiated solution to the political crisis in Venezuela that would establish the
conditions for international y monitored elections to be held.13 Hopes faded, however, after
Maduro stopped participating in negotiations in early August 2019 following new U.S. sanctions.
Guaidó pulled out of the process permanently in September.
Guaidó retains diplomatic support—as evidenced by his three-week diplomatic tour in early
2020, during which he and President Trump reportedly discussed how “to expedite a democratic
transition in Venezuela”14—but he continues to lack domestic political power. Since March 2020,
the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and the Maduro government’s strict

12 T he Venezuelan Human Rights group Foro Penal documented seven deaths and 107 arbitrary detentions that resulted
from the use of force by state security forces and colectivos that blocked aid from entering the country February 22 -23,
2019. Foro Penal, Report on Repression in Venezuela. February 2019. Maduro-aligned forces also responded to the
April 30 demonstrations with force, with four deaths and hundreds of arbitrary detentions reported. HRW, Venezuela:
Violent Response to Demonstrators: Reports of Killings, Detentions, Media Shutdowns, May 3, 2019.
13 David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey, International Peacemaking in Venezuela’s Intractable Conflict, Fundación
Carolina, 2020; International Crisis Group, Peace in Venezuela: Is There Life after the Barbados Talks? , Briefing No.
41, December 11, 2019.
14 T he White House, “ Statement from the Press Secretary on the Visit of Interim President Juan Guaidó of Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela,” February 5, 2020.
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enforcement of a national quarantine has limited Guaidó’s ability to publicly protest and organize.
In part because of the pandemic, nascent progress that Guaidó’s supporters had made in
negotiating the formation of a new CNE with PSUV members of the National Assembly stal ed.15
Guaidó was widely criticized in Venezuela after reports emerged that he may have condoned a
plan that resulted in a botched armed amphibious raid against Maduro launched from Colombia in
early May 2020 by U.S. mercenaries (who have been sentenced in Venezuela) and former
Venezuelan soldiers.16
In 2020, Maduro has sought to secure parliamentary support in the National Assembly by
convening new elections. However, many observers are concerned that current circumstances do
not meet international standards for free and fair elections. In January 2020, Maduro convinced,
possibly after providing bribes, opposition legislators from smal parties to vote with PSUV
legislators to instal Luis Parra as head of the National Assembly, even though they lacked a
quorum—a move that prompted additional U.S. sanctions. In May, capitalizing on Guaidó’s
fading popularity, the Maduro-aligned Supreme Court recognized Parra as the president of the
National Assembly. On June 5, the Supreme Court ruled that, since efforts to select a new 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 scheduled elections for December 6, 2020, but 27 opposition parties
plan to boycott.17 Guaidó risks losing his legitimacy as Interim President in January 2021, when
his term as president of the National Assembly ends. (For prospects, see “Outlook,” below.)
Human Rights
Human rights organizations and U.S. officials have expressed concerns for more than a decade
about the deterioration of democratic institutions and threats to freedom of speech and press in
Venezuela. Human rights conditions in Venezuela have deteriorated even more under President
Maduro than under former President Chávez.18 Abuses have increased, as security forces and
al ied armed civilian militias (colectivos) have been deployed to violently quash protests. In
August 2017, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a
report on human rights violations by Venezuelan security forces against protestors.19 In June
2018, OHCHR issued another report documenting abuses committed by units involved in crime

15 David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas, “Venezuela Weekly: State and Society Respond to Coronavirus,” March 19,
2020, and “Venezuela Weekly: T SJ Ruling Further Complicates Electoral Agreement,” May 27, 2020, Venezuelan
Politics and Human Rights, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
16 According to press reports, two aides to Guaidó resigned May 11 after admitting that they had signed a preliminary
agreement in October 2019 with a Florida-based U.S. security firm, Silvercorp USA, owned by Jordan Goudreau, who
reportedly organized the armed incursion. T he aides maintained that conversations with the company ended in
November 2019 when they deemed Goudreau unreliable. Anthony Faiola, Karen DeYoung, and Ana Vanessa Herrero,
“Inside ‘Plan C’: T he Rogue Operation to capture Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro,” Washington Post, May 7, 2020;
Gideon Long, “Aides to Venezuela’s Guaidó Quit Over Plan to T opple Maduro,” Financial Times, May 11, 2020. CRS
cannot independently verify these press reports.
17 “Venezuela: Opposition Parties Confirm Electoral Boycott,” Latin News Daily, August 3, 2020.
18 According to Freedom House, Venezuela fell from “partly free” under Chávez to “not free” under Maduro. Freedom
House, Freedom in the World: 2020.
19 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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fighting, the scale of the health and food crisis, and the continued impunity in cases involving
security officers who al egedly kil ed people during the protests.20
Venezuela has among the highest homicide and crime victimization rates in Latin America and
the Caribbean, the region with the highest homicide rates in the world. According to the
Venezuelan Violence Observatory, the homicide rate in Venezuela declined in 2019 (60.3
homicides per 100,000 people) as compared with a rate of 81.4 per 100,000 people in 2018, with
part of that decline attributed to the territorial control that crime groups have over some areas.21
Security forces also have adopted militarized approaches to public security that have resulted in
extrajudicial kil ings and other serious human rights abuses.22 In November 2019, a Reuters
investigation of the Special Action Force of Venezuela’s National Police documented 20 kil ings
by the force, which has been accused of hundreds of such kil ings.23
In June 2019, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michel e Bachelet visited Venezuela.
In July 2019, her office issued a report 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 2019.24 The report details how intel igence
agencies have arrested and tortured those perceived as threats, including military officers and
opposition politicians. It asserts that the Maduro government “is violating its obligations to ensure
the rights to food and health,”25 particularly those of “indigenous peoples.”26
Recent human rights reports include the following:
 In October 2019, an International Labour Organization (ILO) Commission of
Inquiry published findings citing violations of several ILO conventions by the
Maduro government. The report documented the murders of more than 30 trade
unionists from 2015 to 2018, physical attacks on trade unionists that remained in
impunity, and the detention and subjection of unionists to military tribunals.27
 In March 2020, the U.S. State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights
Practices for 2019 cited “extrajudicial kil ings by security forces, including
colectivos; torture by security forces; [and] harsh and life-threatening prison
conditions;” as among the most serious human rights abuses in Venezuela. A new
issue cited was the “intimidation, harassment, and abuse” of legislators.28

20 OHCHR, Venezuela: Continued Impunity amid Dismal Human Rights Situation, June 22, 2018.
21 Reuters, “Venezuela Murder Rate Dips, Partly Due to Migration: Monitoring Group,” December 27, 2018.
22 Amnesty International, This Is No Way to Live: Public Security and Right to Life in Venezuela , September 20, 2018;
Human Rights Watch, Venezuela: Extrajudicial Killings in Poor Areas, September 18, 2019.
23 Sarah Kinosian and Angus Berwick, “Elite Police Force Spreads T error in the Barrios of Venezuela,” Reuters,
November 13, 2019; Kinosian and Berwick, “ Convicted Criminals Are Among the Special Police Force T errorizing
Venezuela,” Reuters, February 19, 2020.
24 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.
25 OHCHR, “UN Human Rights Report on Venezuela Urges Immediate Measures to Halt and Remedy Grave Rights
Violations,” press release, July 4, 2019.
26 OHCHR Venezuela Human Rights Report, 2019.
27 ILO, For National Reconciliation and Social Justice in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela: Report of the
Com m ission of Inquiry Appointed Under Article 26 of the Constitution of the ILO,
October 2019.
28 U.S. Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Venezuela, March 11, 2020.
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 In July 2020, the OHCHR issued two reports on Venezuela. 29 The first report
provided an updated assessment on the human rights situation in the country,
including evidence that security forces committed some 1,300 extrajudicial
kil ings from January to May 2020. The second report documented labor
exploitation and other serious human rights abuses committed by criminal groups
in Venezuela’s mining regions.
Analysts predict repression wil continue in Venezuela as Maduro seeks to win control of the
National Assembly. According to Foro Penal, there were an estimated 386 political prisoners in
Venezuela as of August 24, 2020, with the number staying relatively stable as some political
detainees are released (but stil under surveil ance) while others are arrested.30 Maduro’s
intel igence police are currently holding five legislators, Guaidó’s chief of staff, and a prominent
labor activist. The Supreme Court has stripped many lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution, and
dozens of legislators have been detained and subsequently monitored by the Maduro government,
are in exile, or have sought refuge in a foreign embassy (including Leopoldo López). Security
forces have detained doctors and journalists critical of the government’s COVID-19 response, as
wel as returning migrants suspected of having COVID-19 (see “Coronavirus Disease 2019.”31
In addition, other prisoners have been arbitrarily detained for crimes such as corruption, including
six former Citgo executives, five of whom have dual U.S. citizenship, and one U.S. legal
permanent resident imprisoned since 2017. Two of those individuals were released to house arrest
in July 2020 after former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bil Richardson met with Maduro on their
behalf. Despite Richardson’s effort, two Americans detained in May for participating in a botched
raid against Maduro have been sentenced to 20 years in prison.32
For other sources on human rights in Venezuela, see Appendix B.
Investigations into Human Rights Abuses. In September 2017, several countries urged the U.N.
Human Rights Council to support the High Commissioner’s cal for an international investigation
into the abuses described in the August 2017 U.N. report on Venezuela. In June 2018, the High
Commissioner for Human Rights urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to launch a commission
of inquiry to investigate the abuses it documented in that and a follow -up report. It referred the
report to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In September 2018, the U.N.
Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Venezuela expressing “its deepest concern” about
the serious human rights violations described in the June 2018 report, cal ing upon the
government to accept humanitarian assistance, and requiring an OHCHR investigation on the
situation in Venezuela. In September 2019, the 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. Human rights groups praised this
development and are pushing for the Human Rights Council to extend the mission’s mandate at

29 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/44/20, July 2, 2020; OHCHR, Independence of the
Justice System and Access to Justice in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
, July 15, 2020.
30 For more information, see Foro Penal, https://foropenal.com/presos-politicos/. 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.
32 “2 Ex-Green Berets Sentenced to 20 Years for Venezuela Attack,” AP, August 8, 2020.
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their September 2020 meeting.33 Venezuela’s October 2019 election to a three-year seat on the
Human Rights Council, which began in January 2020, may undermine support for the mission.
In addition to the OHCHR, former Venezuelan officials, the Organization of American States
(OAS), and neighboring countries have asked the ICC to investigate serious human rights
violations committed by the Maduro government. The ICC prosecutor opened a preliminary
investigation in February 2018.
Economic Crisis34
For decades, Venezuela was one of South America’s most prosperous countries. Venezuela has
the world’s largest proven reserves of oil, and its economy is built on oil. (See also “Petroleum
Sector Concerns and U.S. Economic Sanctions” below.) Oil traditional y has accounted for more
than 90% of Venezuelan exports, and oil sales have funded the government budget. Venezuela
benefited from the boom in oil prices during the 2000s. President Chávez used the oil windfal to
spend heavily on social programs and expand subsidies for food and energy. Government debt
more than doubled as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) between 2000 and 2012.35 Chávez
also used oil to expand influence abroad through PetroCaribe, a program that al owed Caribbean
Basin countries to purchase subsidized oil.
Although substantial government outlays on social programs helped Chávez curry political favor
and reduce poverty, economic mismanagement had long-term consequences. Chávez moved the
economy in a less market-oriented direction, with widespread expropriations and nationalizations,
as wel as currency and price controls. These policies discouraged foreign investment and created
market distortions. Government spending was not directed toward investment to increase
economic productivity or diversify the economy from its reliance on oil. Corruption proliferated.
When Nicolás Maduro took office as President in 2013, he inherited economic policies reliant on
proceeds from oil exports. When world oil prices crashed by nearly 50% in 2014, the Maduro
government was il -equipped to respond and a years-long economic crisis has unfolded.
Economic mismanagement 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. Additional 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.
The extent of Venezuela’s economic collapse is difficult to overstate. It is estimated to be 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.36 Between 2014 and 2019, Venezuela’s
economy contracted by 66% (see Figure 2).37 Imports—which Venezuela relies on for most
consumer goods—have fal en by 80%. Government deficits have averaged over 20% of GDP

33 Amnesty International, “Venezuela: Human Rights Organizations Call on UN Human Rights Council to Extend and
Strengthen Fact -Finding Mission,” August 17, 2020.
34 T his section was authored by Rebecca M. Nelson, Specialist in International T rade and Finance. For more
information, see CRS Report R45072, Venezuela’s Econom ic Crisis: Issues for Congress, by Rebecca M. Nelson.
35 Economist, “How Chávez and Maduro Have Impoverished Venezuela,” April 6, 2017.
36 Anatoly Kurmanaev, “Venezuela’s Collapse Is the Worst Outside of War in Decades, Economists Say,” New York
Tim es
, May 17, 2019; Michael Stott, “ Venezuela: T he Political Stand-off Fueling an Economic Collapse,” Financial
Tim es
, August 4, 2019.
37 Real GDP (in 2010 U.S. dollars). Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Country Report: Venezuela, Accessed August
5, 2020.
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annual y. The government’s reliance on the creation of money to finance government deficits
(monetization of the deficit) led to hyperinflation, with consumer prices increasing more than
17,000% in 2019, depleting the value of citizens’ salaries and savings. Hyperinflation, in turn, led
to a collapse in the value of its currency, the bolívar, and created shortages of foreign currency,
particularly U.S. dollars. Combined with shortages of critical food and medicine, as wel as the
COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis has further deteriorated (see
“Humanitarian Situation and Response,” below).
The government, which borrowed heavily
during the boom years of the 2000s, has
Figure 2. Venezuela’s Gross Domestic Product
defaulted on al its bonds, although it
continues to repay its debts to China and
Russia, its main financial backers.
Venezuela faces numerous legal
chal enges from private creditors and
firms seeking to seize Venezuelan assets.
The Department of the Treasury took
steps in 2019 to shield Citgo, a U.S.-based
subsidiary of PdVSA and Venezuela’s
most valuable asset, from seizure in legal
chal enges against Venezuela to preserve
the asset for the interim government if it
takes power.


Source: Economist Intel igence Unit.
Maduro Government Policy
Responses
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 war,” a reference to U.S. sanctions.38 Piecemeal efforts to address the crisis,
including price controls and the creation of a new digital currency, the petro, were ineffective.
Price controls contributed to shortages and the proliferation of black markets.
In August 2018, the government acknowledged for the first time its role in creating hyperinflation
and announced new policies for addressing the economic crisis, such as introducing a new
“sovereign bolívar,” which removed five zeros from the bolívar; cutting the government budget
deficit to zero; speeding up tax collection; and increasing the minimum salary by more than
3,000%.39 The government did not implement many of these policies, including eliminating the
budget deficit. The Maduro government also offered to pay foreign suppliers and contracts in
Chinese yuan to circumvent U.S. sanctions, and it turned to the Andean Development
Corporation, a Latin American development bank, and the U.N. to finance electricity projects.40

38 Rachelle Krygier, “After Years of Crisis, Venezuela’s Maduro Might Finally Be Ready to Accept Some Help,”
Washington Post, December 12, 2018.
39 “Nicolas Maduro T ries to Rescue Venezuela’s Economy,” Economist, August 23, 2018.
40 “Facing U.S. Sanctions, Venezuela Offers Suppliers Payment in Chinese Yuan,” Reuters, November 28, 2019;
“U.N., Lender CAF Seek $350 Million Loan Deal for Government of Venezuela’s Maduro,” Reuters, December 4,
2019.
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In early 2020, Venezuelan business owners reported that the Maduro government was al owing
some free market reforms as a way to support economic activity, including the country’s first
initial public offering in more than a decade, even as it stepped up enforcement of price controls
and pressured businesses to accept the new digital currency.41 Venezuelan consumers and
businesses increasingly use U.S. dollars for day-to-day transactions, including the recipients of
about $4 bil ion in annual remittances from relatives abroad.42 The Maduro government worked
with its al ies to mitigate the impact of U.S. sanctions; for example, by early 2020, Russia was
handling more than two-thirds of Venezuela’s crude oil, and the United Arab Emirates imported
around $1 bil ion in gold from Venezuela since sanctions targeting Venezuela’s gold sector were
imposed in late 2018.43 Some of the reforms led to an uptick in economic activity in Caracas, but
the provinces continued to struggle with water shortages and malnutrition.44
New Economic Challenges in 2020
Venezuela faced two new economic pressures in the spring of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic and
oil price wars. 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. Simultaneously, an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia
caused global oil prices to drop. Even with U.S. sanctions targeting Venezuela’s oil sector, oil is a
critical source of revenue and foreign currency. Some estimates predict that, due to the drop in oil
prices, the Maduro government wil have less than half the funds it managed last year.45 As of
August 2020, the Economist Intel igence Unit forecasts Venezuela’s economy wil contract by
30% in 2020.46
Since March 2020, the Maduro government has taken a number of policy actions to address the
new economic chal enges. It 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). To raise
resources, the Maduro government approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $5
bil ion emergency loan but was rebuffed due to disagreements among IMF members over the
legitimate leader of Venezuela. The Maduro government also requested that $1 bil ion of its gold
holdings at the Bank of England (the United Kingdom’s central bank) be transferred to the U.N.
Development Programme to fund humanitarian responses to COVID-19. UK courts ruled against
the monetary transfer, because the UK does not recognize Maduro as the legitimate leader of
Venezuela. The Maduro government is currently appealing the decision in the UK legal system.

41 Ryan Duge, Juan Forero, and Kejal Vyas, “Venezuela T ries Looser Grip on Economy,” Wall Street Journal, January
31, 2020; Mary Anastasia O’Grady, “Venezuela Puts the Crypt in Cryptocurrency,” Wall Street Journal, February 3,
2020.
42 Ryan Dube, Juan Forero and Kejal Vyas, “Maduro Gives Economy a Freer Hand to Keep His Grip on Venezuela,”
Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2020.
43 Jessica Donati, Andrew Restuccia, and Ian T alley, “T rump’s Venezuela Problem: Russia –Putin’s Regime Helped
Maduro Keep a Grip on Power, Despite U.S. Efforts to Oust Him ,” Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020.
44 Anatoly Kurmanaev and Isayen Herrera, “Venezuela’s Capital is Booming. Is this the End of the Revolution?,” New
York Tim es
, February 1, 2020.
45 Corina Pons and Mayela Arms, “Venezuela’s Financial Crisis Exacerbat ed by Oil price War, Coronavirus,” Reuters,
April 3, 2020.
46 EIU, Country Report: Venezuela, Accessed August 5, 2020.

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Venezuela’s economic outlook is bleak, 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 private bondholders. Some
analysts believe major change in Venezuela’s overal economic strategy wil come only if and
when there is a change in government.
Citgo’s Uncertain Future: Multiple Creditors, Legal Claims, and New Management
Citgo, a U.S.-based subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), owns and operates oil refineries in Texas,
Louisiana, and Il inois. The company also owns 48 petroleum product terminals and a pipeline network that
delivers these products to various customers. Citgo is arguably one of the most valuable assets in the PdVSA
portfolio. In 2016, PdVSA leveraged that value to support new financing. Al of Citgo’s ownership was pledged as
col ateral for two separate debt issuances: bonds sold to private creditors and a loan from Rosneft. Additional y,
companies that have sued Venezuela—such as Crystal ex—for expropriation actions have been awarded legal
judgments that include taking possession of and liquidating Citgo assets.47 Furthermore, the U.S.-recognized
Guaidó government appointed a new board of directors in February 2019 to manage Citgo, thereby removing
Maduro’s PdVSA from management decision-making of the U.S.-based company. Some of the financial and legal
chal enges facing Citgo include:
PdVSA 2020 Bonds (50.1% of Citgo as col ateral): PdVSA issued bonds totaling approximately $3.4 bil ion in
October 2016 to various creditors. A majority ownership stake in Citgo was pledged as col ateral for the bonds,
and the creditors could have legal claim to the company should the bonds enter into default. An interest payment
for the bonds came due in April 2019.48 The payment was missed, but there was a 30-day grace period for the
missed interest payment. The Maduro-control ed PdVSA—the original bond issuer—is prevented from making
bond payments due to U.S. sanctions. However, a PdVSA board appointed by Guaidó voted to pay the $71 mil ion
interest payment, thus preserving Citgo ownership in the event that the opposition takes control of the Venezuela
government. On October 24, 2019, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)
modified General License #5 regarding the PdVSA 2020 bonds to prevent bondholders from being able to col ect
on their col ateral (shares of Citgo) until January 22, 2020 even if those bonds should enter int o default. The
interim government did not make a $913 mil ion payment due on October 28, 2019, thus triggering a default on
those bonds. Legal advisors for the interim government filed a lawsuit against holders of those bonds, arguing that
the debt be declared “nul ” as it was never approved by the National Assembly as per Venezuelan law and is
therefore il egal. In November 2019, the interim government reached a deal with bondholders to prevent them
from seizing Citgo until May 2020. OFAC subsequently extended the shield for Citgo through October 20, 2020.
Rosneft Loan to PdVSA (49.9% of Citgo as col ateral): PdVSA pledged 49.9% of Citgo ownership as col ateral
for a $1.5 bil ion loan from Russian oil company Rosneft that was issued in December 2016.49 The potential for a
Russian company to own a significant portion of the U.S.-based Citgo operation has been noted by Members of
Congress as a potential national security concern. In the 116th Congress, the House passed H.R. 1477 in March
2019; Section 4 would require an assessment of the national security risks posed by potential Russian acquisition
of Citgo’s U.S. energy infrastructure holdings. S. 1025, enacted in December 2019 as part of P.L. 116-94, includes
Section 163, which express concerns about Citgo ownership pledged as col ateral for the Rosneft loan and
requires the President to submit a report about the potential national security risks posed by Rosneft taking
control of U.S. energy infrastructure. During a 2017 Senate Foreign Relations Hearing, Treasury Secretary
Mnuchin said that any transaction involving Rosneft and Citgo would be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign
Investment in the United States.50
Crystallex Legal Judgment ($1.2 bil ion judgment against PDV Holding, Citgo’s parent company): In 2018, a
U.S. district court ruled that Canada-based Crystal ex could take shares of PDV Holding, the U.S.-based parent

47 Other arbitration awards have been made to companies such as Conoco for their expropriation in 2007 and Canada’s
Rusoro Mining, whose gold projects were seized by the government of Venezuela in 2011. However, the Crystallex
award and judgment allows the company to seize and liquidate Citgo shares as a means of collecting the award.
48 Reuters, “Investors Await Payment Decision as PDVSA 202 0 Coupon Looms,” April 24, 2019.
49 “Venezuela’s PDVSA Uses 49.9 Percent Citgo Stake as Loan Collateral,” Reuters, December 23, 2016.
50 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Testimony from the Secretary of the
United States Departm ent of the Treasury on Dom estic and International Policy Issues
, 115th Cong., 1st sess., May 18,
2017.
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company of Citgo, as a means of col ecting a $1.2 bil ion arbitration award made to Crystal ex. The award stems
from Venezuela’s seizure of the Canadian miners’ assets in 2011. Crystal ex has indicated its intent to take
ownership of Citgo shares and sel them for cash as a means of col ecting the arbitration award. Advisers to
Guaidó have argued that sanctions prevent Crystal ex from seizing shares in Citgo, and a waiver from OFAC
would be required. In November 2019, OFAC restricted the ability of claimants from seizing Venezuela’s U.S.
assets without specific authorization, providing protections to Citgo. This dispute is ongoing.
U.S. Defense Contractor: U.S. defense contractor Huntington Ingal s Industries, Inc. is seeking compensation
over nonpayment for repairs to two of Venezuela’s warships, which began decades ago, before U.S.-Venezuelan
relations grew hostile under President Chàvez.51 The contractor is pursuing compensation in the form of Citgo
shares to enforce a $138 mil ion judgment for the nonpayment.
Humanitarian Situation and Response52
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Venezuelans were facing a humanitarian crisis due to a
lack of food, medicine and health, and access to social services. Political persecution,
hyperinflation, loss of income, and oppressive 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 (80% in extreme poverty).53 Mil ions 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.54
In February 2020, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) released an assessment showing that as
of mid-2019, more than 9.3 mil ion Venezuelans were food insecure, of which 7 mil ion people
(24.4% of the population) were moderately food insecure and 2.3 mil ion people (7.9% of the
population) were severely food insecure.55 Many Venezuelans reported that the price of food
presented more of an obstacle than the availability of food. The WFP assessment also found that
25% of households surveyed did not have reliable access to potable water and reported
interruptions in electrical service and gas supplies.
Successive electrical blackouts in 2019 made conditions worse in Venezuela, limiting people’s
access to power and clean water and further contributing to health risks. The International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported that these power outages
contributed to the collapse of the health system, particularly for emergency services and
equipment, such as dialysis machines.56 Wel before COVID-19, overal health indicators,
particularly infant and maternal mortality rates, had worsened. Previously eradicated diseases
such as diphtheria and measles had also become a major concern.57

51 “U.S. Defense Firm Joins Creditors Seeking to Enforce Venezuela Judgments,” Reuters, August 1, 2020.
52 Written by Rhoda Margesson, Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy. For background, see CRS In Focus
IF11029, The Venezuela Regional Migration Crisis, by Rhoda Margesson and Clare Ribando Seelke.
53 Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, Encuesta Sobre Condiciones de Vida:Venezuela 2019 -2020: Avance de
Resultados
, July 2020.
54 U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “Venezuela: Humanitarian Response Aims to
Assist 4.5 Million People in 2020,” August 3, 2020.
55 World Food Program (WFP), “ Venezuela Food Security Assessment : Main Findings,” February 23, 2020.
56 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), “Venezuela: Health Emergency – Six-
month Update, October 23, 2019.
57 In November 2019, a yellow fever case was confirmed inside Venezuela, the first since 2005 . UNOCHA, Venezuela
Hum anitarian Response
, Situation Report No. 6, November 2019. Human Rights Watch and John Hopkins School of
Public Health, Venezuela’s Hum anitarian Em ergency: Large-Scale UN Response Needed to Address Health and Food
Crises
, April 2019.
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Displacement
Figure 3. Venezuelan Migrants and Asylum
As of August 2020, U.N. agencies estimated
Seekers: Flows to the Region and Beyond
that more than 5.1 mil ion Venezuelans had
fled the country. Roughly 4.3 mil ion (about
85%) of the migrants were hosted in Latin
American and Caribbean countries (see
Figure 3), including in Colombia (more than
1.8 mil ion), Peru (829,708), Chile (455,494),
Ecuador (362,857), Argentina (179,069),
Brazil (264,617), and Panama (121,123).58
The displacement crisis has affected the entire
region as neighboring countries, particularly
Colombia, strain to absorb arrivals often
malnourished and in poor health. Although
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) does not consider most
Venezuelans to be refugees, it asserts that a
significant number need humanitarian

assistance, international protection, and
Source: U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
opportunities to regularize their status. Prior
to the onset of COVID-19, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM)
estimated that by the end of 2020, the number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants could reach
over 5.5 mil ion.59 Border closures, quarantine orders, and other limitations on movement now in
place due to the virus wil likely affect the overal displacement number.
Venezuela’s exodus has become an unprecedented displacement crisis for the Western
Hemisphere, which has in place some of the highest protection standards in the world for
displaced and vulnerable persons. The 17 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 (roughly 50%)
Venezuelans in neighboring countries lacked identification documents, making them vulnerable
to exploitation.60
Coronavirus Disease 2019
The COVID-19 pandemic emerged in Venezuela in mid-March 2020. It has added a complicated
layer to the country’s humanitarian crisis. In general, vulnerable, displaced populations live in
conditions that make them particularly susceptible to COVID-19 and present significant
chal enges to response and containment.61 The Pan American Health Organization and the U.N.

58 U.N. Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, Response for Venezuelans (RV4), Refugee
and Migrant Response Plan 2020: January – Decem ber 2020
, December 2019.
59 Ibid.
60 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
61 Jacob 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 Corona virus Pandemic Could
Leave an Even Bigger Path of Destruction in the World’s Most Vulnerable and Conflict -Riven Countries,” Foreign
Policy
, March 23, 2020; Høvring Roald, “ T en T hings You Should Know About Coronavirus and Refugees, ”
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Children’s Fund 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.62 In neighboring countries, UNHCR and IOM have sought to address the
immediate public health needs of refugees and migrants as wel as the displaced prompted by the
virus.63 The United Nations and its partners have been trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19
through new and existing programs, including health, water sanitation and hygiene support;
provision of medical supplies; and information and awareness campaigns.64
In neighboring countries, COVID-19 prevention measures that restrict movement, such as
physical distancing, quarantine orders, and border closures, have not only disrupted the informal
economy, cross-border economic activity, and remittances but also made it difficult for
Venezuelans to meet their basic needs. Reportedly, as of August 2020, as many as 95,000
Venezuelans may have attempted to return to Venezuela, particularly from Colombia, as loss of
livelihoods and economic decline followed the pandemic.65 Venezuelan returnees, a new
population of concern within the humanitarian response, have presented chal enges on both sides
of the border, particularly absent the establishment of a formal returns process. Many
Venezuelans apparently have used informal border crossings, which present protection risks due
to the presence of armed groups.66
Venezuelan returnees, arriving primarily along borders Venezuela shares with Brazil and
Colombia, are supposed to quarantine in temporary shelters for 14 days. Although some critical
assistance is provided (including health screenings, access to water and sanitation facilities, and
food kits) at points of entry, relief agencies have expressed concern about Venezuela’s capacity
and wil ingness to ensure sufficient quarantine and health safety in the reintegration of
returnees.67 Abuses of returning migrants by security forces have been reported.68
International Humanitarian Response in Venezuela
Although in 2018 the Maduro government rejected large amounts of humanitarian assistance,
beginning in 2019, it permitted U.N. humanitarian entities and partners to increase their
humanitarian and protection activities. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs (UNOCHA) set up its coordination structure, including regional hubs in the country. The
Cooperation and Assistance Coordination Team, led by the U.N. resident coordinator, was
established in February 2019 to facilitate humanitarian coordination. As of August 2020, the
humanitarian space had expanded to 129 operational actors implementing 234 projects.69
A needs overview for Venezuela completed in March 2019 indicated significant humanitarian
requirements across sectors that affected an estimated 7 mil ion people. In July 2019, this

Norwegian Refugee Council, March 16, 2020.
62 UNOCHA, Humanitarian Response Plan with Humanitarian Needs Overview: Venezuela, July 2020.
63 U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “U.N. Refugee Agency Steps Up COVID-19 Preparedness,
Prevention, and Response Measures,” March 10, 2020.
64 UNOCHA, “Venezuela: Humanitarians Rapidly Scale Up Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” June 7, 2020.
65 UNHCR, “T he Refugee Brief,” July 17, 2020; Anatoly Kurmanaev, Isayen Herrera, and Sheyla Urdaneta,
“Venezuela Deploys Security Forces in Coronavirus Crackdown,” New York Times, August 19, 2020.
66 USAID, “Venezuela Regional Crisis,” Fact Sheet #2, FY2020, May 20, 2020.
67 USAID, “Venezuela Regional Crisis,” Fact Sheet #2, FY2020, May 20, 2020.
68 Anatoly Kurmanaev, Isayen Herrera, and Sheyla Urdaneta, “Venezuela Deploys Security Forces in Coronavirus
Crackdown,” New York Times, August 19, 2020.
69 UNOCHA, “Venezuela: Humanitarian Response Aims to Assist 4.5 Million People in 2020,” August 3, 2020.
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assessment resulted in the development of the first Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for
Venezuela and the launch of an appeal for $223 mil ion.70 The HRP is a collective effort by
UNOCHA and implementing partners to coordinate and scale up a response for the most
vulnerable people across the country, with assistance in the areas of health, water, sanitation and
hygiene, food security, nutrition, protection, shelter and non-food items, and education.71 The
2020 HRP appeals for $762.5 mil ion, of which $674.6 mil ion is for adjusted humanitarian
requirements and $87.9 mil ion is for the COVID-19 response.72 The 2020 HRP builds on the
2019 activities, incorporates the response to the health and socioeconomic impacts of the
COVID-19 pandemic, and targets assistance for 4.5 mil ion of the country’s most vulnerable
people.73
In addition to adjustments made for COVID-19, ongoing operational chal enges have included
broad information gaps on humanitarian needs; lack of funding; limited capacity for response;
and bureaucratic impediments, such as the indefinite suspension of nongovernmental organization
registration. Fuel shortages, power outages, telecommunications problems, intermittent access to
water, and security concerns, mostly along the border and in remote areas, have continued to
impact humanitarian access and partners’ delivery of assistance.
Beginning in 2019, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also
scaled up humanitarian activities inside Venezuela, in coordination with the Venezuelan Red
Cross and with the agreement of both the interim government and Maduro.74 The activities of the
Red Cross Movement have focused on different levels of health care within the Venezuelan
public health system, access to health care services, and the needs of the most vulnerable
populations.75 With the onset of COVID-19, the International Committee of the Red Cross and
the Venezuelan Red Cross also have focused on health care workers throughout the country by
distributing medical supplies, renovating and instal ing handwashing stations in medical centers,
and providing training on preventive measures.76
International Humanitarian Response in the Region
The U.N. Secretary-General appointed UNHCR and IOM to coordinate the international response
to the needs of displaced Venezuelans and host communities in the region, which includes
governments, U.N. entities, nongovernmental organizations (national and international), the Red
Cross Movement, faith-based organizations, and civil society. The Regional Interagency
Coordination Platform provides a common humanitarian framework for assistanc e. The U.S.

70 By the end of December 2019, a total of $184 million had been received to support humanitarian activities inside and
outside the appeal. T he appeal received $55.5 million (24.9% of $223 million). See UNOCHA, 2020 Global
Hum anitarian Overview
, December 2019.
71 UNOCHA, Venezuela: Humanitarian Response Plan – July – December 2019, July 2019; see also UNOCHA,
Venezuela—UN Hum anitarian Scale-Up Situation Report, January-April 2019, May 2019.
72 UNOCHA, Global Humanitarian Response Plan COVID-19, United Nations Coordinated Appeal, April – December
2020
, GHRP July Update, July 2020.
73 By the end of 2019, UNOCHA had requested $750 million for humanitarian efforts in Venezuela. UNOCHA, 2020
Global Hum anitarian Overview
, December 2019.
74 IFRC, “IFRC to Bring Humanitarian Aid into Venezuela,” March 29, 2019, at https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/press-
release/ifrc-bring-humanitarian-aid-venezuela.
75 International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), “Venezuela: Making Access to Health Care a Priority,”
September 18, 2019.
76 ICRC, “Venezuela: Helping the Health Care Workers Who Help Us,” July 21, 2020.
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government also has provided humanitarian assistance and helped to coordinate regional response
efforts. (See “U.S. Humanitarian Assistance,” below.)
In December 2018, UNHCR and IOM launched the 2019 Regional Refugee and Migrant
Response Plan (RMRP), which was the first of its kind in the Americas: an operational and
coordination strategy and an appeal for $738 mil ion in funding to support over 2 mil ion
Venezuelans in the region and half a mil ion people in host communities.77 Protection and
assistance needs have been significant for arrivals and host communities. Services provided have
varied by country but have included support for reception centers and options for shelter;
emergency relief items, such as emergency food assistance, safe drinking water, and hygiene
supplies; legal assistance with asylum applications and other matters; protection from violence
and exploitation; and the creation of temporary work programs and education opportunities. The
2020 RMRP launched in December 2019 appealed for $1.35 bil ion to build on these activities
and reach 4 mil ion of the most vulnerable across 17 countries in Latin America and the
Caribbean.78 As of July 2020, the updated RMRP funding appeal increased to $1.4 bil ion, of
which $968.8 mil ion was for adjusted humanitarian requirements and $438.8 mil ion was for the
COVID-19 response. 79
The Quito Process, a regional coordinating mechanism that has regularly convened countries
hosting Venezuelans since 2018, also has helped to harmonize policies among host countries and
donors, scale up the humanitarian response, and facilitate the response to refugees and migrants
across the region. The International Solidarity Conference on the Venezuelan Refugee and
Migrant Crisis held in Brussels, Belgium, on October 28-29, 2019, was cochaired by the
European Commission, UNHCR, and IOM. The conference aimed to raise global awareness
about the Venezuela regional refugee and migrant crisis, and it focused on the response,
particularly by host countries and communities, the need for international support and
coordination, and the development of partnerships between public and private sectors.80 Building
on this meeting, on May 26, 2020, donors pledged $2.79 bil ion at the International Donors
Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants in Latin America and the
Caribbean.81
International Actors in Venezuela’s Crisis
The international community remains divided over how to respond to the crisis in Venezuela. The
United States, Canada, most of the member states of the European Union (EU), Australia, Japan,

77 T he plan included U.N. entities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations, and civil society
and was in cooperation with the Red Cross Movement. See U.N. Coordination Platform for Response for Venezuelans,
Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela , January-Decem ber 2019
,
December 14, 2018, which was put together by 95 organizations covering 16 countries. At the end of 2019, this appeal
was 51.9% funded. See UNOCHA, 2020 Global Hum anitarian Overview, December 2019.
78 U.N. Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, Response for Venezuelans (RV4), Refugee
and Migrant Response Plan 2020: January – Decem ber 2020
, December 2019.
79 UNOCHA, Global Humanitarian Response Plan COVID-19, United Nations Coordinated Appeal, April – December
2020
, GHRP July Update, July 2020.
80 European Commission (EU), International Organization for Migration (IOM), U.N. High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR), “ EU, IOM and UNHCR Express Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants,” October
29, 2019. Pledges made during the conference totaled approx imately 150 million euros ($167 million.) European
Commission, “Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the Press Conference Following
the International Solidarity Conference on the Venezuelan Refugee and Migrant Crisis,” October 29, 2019.
81 U.N. News, “U.N. Agencies Welcome Donor Pledges for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants,” May 27, 2020.
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Israel, South Korea, and 16 Western Hemisphere countries recognize Juan Guaidó as interim
president and support a peaceful transfer of power from Maduro to an elected government.
Meanwhile, 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. Some observers maintain that divisions
among global powers 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), those observers maintain that neither side viewed negotiations as the best option.82
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 June 2020. These countries have not imposed broad economic
sanctions as the United States has done. In general, these countries favor a negotiated solution to
the crisis and oppose military intervention in Venezuela. Since February 2019, the EU-backed
International Contact Group—composed of Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Germany,
Italy, the Netherlands, Panama, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay—
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.83 The EU is
pushing for a delay in the December 2020 legislative elections and has refused to monitor those
elections under the current circumstances.84
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 Guaidó-led 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).85 In June 2020, the OAS passed a
resolution condemning the Maduro-aligned Supreme Court’s election-related decisions.86 Of the
OAS members, some 13 countries remain active in the Lima Group, a group that formed in
August 2017 to hasten a return to democracy in Venezuela.87 On August 14, the Lima Group
issued a “firm rejection of the il egitimate regime’s announcement of the celebration of
parliamentary elections without the minimum guarantees.”88 In addition, 11 OAS member states
that are states parties to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) have

82 Abraham F. Lowenthal and David Smilde, “Venezuela: Is T here a Way Out of T his T ragic Impasse?,” Woodrow
Wilson Center, July 2019.
83 T hose “necessary guarantees” include naming a new electoral council, releasing political prisoners, and ending bans
on political parties and candidates.
84 “EU Refuses to Monitor Venezuelan Election, Urges Delay,” AP, August 11, 2020.
85 T he Organization of American States (OAS) requires 18 votes to pass a resolution of the Permanent Council. In June
2018, 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.
86 OAS, “ Permanent Council Rejects “Illegitimate” Action of the Venezuelan Court of Justice,” June 27, 2020.
87 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.
88 Countries that signed the most recent August 14, 2020, Lima Group statement include Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile,
Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. For past statements in English, see
https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/issues_development -enjeux_developpement/response_conflict -
reponse_conflits/crisis-crises/venezuela.aspx?lang=eng.
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imposed targeted sanctions and travel bans on Maduro officials.89 OAS member states general y
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 supported Venezuela’s struggling oil industry, helped Venezuela skirt U.S. oil
sanctions, and sent military personnel and equipment, moves that have prompted U.S.
condemnation.90 Russia has both economic and geostrategic interests in Venezuela; it has used
Venezuela as a platform from which to spread propaganda and Russia-related media.91 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.92 Cuba has provided military and intel igence support to the Maduro government in
exchange for subsidized oil. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo maintained in 2019 there were some
2,300 Cuban security personnel in Venezuela, involved in providing security for Maduro and
training for Venezuela’s security forces in “torture tactics, domestic spying techniques, and
mechanisms of repression.”93
The Maduro government’s main international financial backers, China and Russia, continue to
work with it, though they have not recently provided new financing.94 Both countries have sent
humanitarian aid during the COVID-19 pandemic and sold food, medicines, and other goods in
exchange for oil. China recently agreed to permit the Maduro government postpone its repayment
of $19 bil ion in past loans with oil shipments through the end of 2020. Among the other
countries that support the Maduro regime, Turkey has purchased large quantities of Venezuelan
gold despite U.S. sanctions. 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. As U.S. sanctions have restricted the Maduro

89 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.
90 See Vladimir Rouvinski, Russian-Venezuelan Relations at a Crossroads, Woodrow Wilson Center, February 5,
2019; V. Rouvinski, Russia’s Continuing Engagem ent with Venezuela in 2019 and Beyond-An Update, Woodrow
Wilson Center, February 18, 2020. A February 2019 Defense Intelligence 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 intelligence cooperation. Russia’s March 2019 deployment of military person nel to
Venezuela drew strong criticism from President T rump. However, Russia has maintained that its military specialists
have traveled to Venezuela to service Russian-made military equipment, most recently in September 2019. “ Russian
Military Specialists Arrive in Venezuela to Service Equipment,” Reuters, September 25, 2019.
91 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 wit hin Div. J of P.L. 116-94, February 24, 2020.
92 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, Nov. 14, 2018; “ Freedom on the Net 2019: Venezuela,” Freedom House;
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, The New Big Brother: China and Digital Authoritarianism , July 21, 2020.
93 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.
94 Sources for this paragraph include Kristen Martinez-Gugerli, “ T aking Stock of Chinese and Russian Relations with
Venezuela,” WOLA, August 10, 2020; Mayela Armas, Corina Pons, “Exclusive: Venezuela Wins Grace Period on
China Oil-for-Loan Deals, Sources say,” Reuters, August 12, 2020; Armas and Pons, “ Exclusive: Venezuela Removed
Six T onnes of Central Bank Gold at T urn of Year—Sources,” Reuters, March 12, 2020; Ian T alley and Benoit Falcon,
“Iranian Military-Owned Conglomerate Sets Up Shop in Venezuela,” Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2020.
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government’s access to licit revenue, the il icit linkages between Venezuela and actors in some of
those countries have become more apparent (see also “Venezuela Petroleum Trade with Non-U.S.
Entities” and “U.S. Efforts to Combat Il icit Revenue Sources,” below).
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 have
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 his fraudulent May 2018 reelection. Since recognizing
the Guaidó government in January 2019, the Trump Administration has coordinated its efforts
with Interim President Guaidó and the nearly 60 countries who recognize his government. U.S.
strategy has 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 the interim government; and actions to cut off the Maduro government’s sources of il icit
revenue.95 In early 2019, President Trump and other top officials suggested that U.S. military
intervention in Venezuela was a possibility.96 After U.S. al ies (the EU and the Lima Group) and
Members of Congress expressed opposition to that prospect (see H.R. 1004 and S.J.Res. 11), such
statements became much less frequent.97
In March 2020, the Administration issued a “democratic transition framework” backed by
Guaidó. The framework would lift 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 can be held. Even as Maduro-aligned actors
in Venezuela are pushing forward with election preparations, the United States and members of
the Lima Group, the EU, and the International Contact Group issued a statement on August 14,
2020, endorsing the formation of a transition government to organize presidential elections.98
The 116th Congress has enacted legislation to guide U.S. policy on Venezuela, appropriated
foreign assistance to support the people of Venezuela and to address the Venezuela regional
migration crisis, and conducted numerous oversight hearings on U.S. policy towards Venezuela.
In December 2019, Congress enacted P.L. 116-94, which appropriates $30 mil ion in FY2020

95 U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Government Support for the Democratic Aspirations of the Venezuelan Pe ople,”
accessed August 17; 2020; T estimony of Elliott A. Abrams, Special Representative for Venezuela, U.S. Department of
State, in U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, August 4, 2020. Hereinafter: Abrams testimony,
August 4, 2020.
96 T he White House, “ Remarks by President T rump to the Venezuelan American Community ,” February 18, 2019
97 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.
98 U.S. Department of State, “ Joint Declaration of Support for Democratic Change in Venezuela,” August 14, 2020.
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assistance for democracy programs in Venezuela and incorporates the Senate-reported VERDAD
Act (S. 1025) as Division J, Title 1 (see Appendix A). The VERDAD Act incorporated House-
passed measures authorizing FY2020 humanitarian aid to Venezuela (H.R. 854), restricting the
export of defense articles to Venezuela (H.R. 920), and requiring a U.S. strategy to counter
Russian influence in Venezuela (H.R. 1477). Among other provisions, the measure authorizes
$400 mil ion in FY2020 humanitarian aid for the Venezuela crisis, authorizes $17.5 mil ion to
support the convening of elections with international observers, and extends sanctions for
corruption and human rights violations through 2023.99 In July 2019, the House passed H.R. 549,
which would al ow Venezuelan nationals in the United States to apply for Temporary Protected
Status.100 On July 30, 2019, a Senate effort to pass H.R. 549 by unanimous consent failed.
Congress is considering the Administration’s FY2021 request for $205 million in assistance to
Venezuela. (For a discussion of congressional action, see “U.S. Assistance” section below.)
U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela101
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 has 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 Administration has 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.102 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).

99 P.L. 116-94 required several reports from the State Department to Congress on Venezuela, including a report on
accountability for human rights abuses committed by the Maduro government. U.S. Department of State, Report on the
Former Maduro Regime’s Accountability for Crimes Against Humanity
.
100 Congress created T emporary Protected Status (T PS) in 1990 (P.L. 101-649) to provide relief from removal and
work authorization 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 add Venezuela to the list of
countries designated for T PS. T his designation would last for 18 months and could be extended by the Secretary of
Homeland Security. Venezuelans who have been continuo usly present in the United States since the date of enactment
and who meet certain other requirements would be eligible to apply for T PS. See CRS Report RS20844, Tem porary
Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues
, by Jill H. Wilson. T he Administration has not supported T PS for
Venezuelans, though U.S. officials assert that Venezuelans are not being subject to removal. U.S. Congress, Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations, Venezuela, 116th Cong., 2nd sess., August 4, 2020.
101 For more detailed information, see CRS In Focus IF10715, Venezuela: Overview of U.S. Sanctions, by Clare
Ribando Seelke.
102 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Venezuela, 116th Cong., 2nd sess., August 4, 2020.
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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);103 prohibiting transactions using cryptocurrency (E.O. 13827 in
March 2018);104 and barring the purchase of Venezuelan debt or accounts
receivable with the Venezuelan government, including PdVSA (E.O. 13835 in
May 2018).105
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).106
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).107
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.108 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. Although some have praised the Administration for removing the sanctions
on General Figuera, others 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.109 It is difficult to attribute precisely the
extent of Venezuela’s economic collapse that is due to U.S. sanctions versus broad economic
mismanagement. Between 2017 and 2019, Venezuela’s economy contracted by an average of
23.4% each year, oil production fel by about 60%, inflation grew to 17,000%, and annual

103 E.O. 13808, “Imposing Additional Sanctions with Respect to the Situation in Venezuela,” 82 Federal Register
41155-41156, August 24, 2017.
104 E.O. 13827, “T aking Additional Steps to Address the Situation in Venezuela,” 83 Federal Register 12469-12470,
March 19, 2018.
105 E.O. 13835, “Prohibiting Certain Additional T ransactions with Respect to Venezuela,” 83 Federal Register 24001-
24002, May 21, 2018.
106 E.O. 13850, “Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela,” 83 Federal
Register
55243-55245, November 1, 2018.
107 Executive Order 13884, “Blocking Property of the Government of Venezuela,” 84 Federal Register 38843- August
5, 2020.
108 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.
109 See CRS Report R45657, Cuba: U.S. Policy in the 116th Congress, by Mark P. Sullivan.
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government budget deficits exceeded 20% of GDP.110 The Maduro government has defaulted on
al its bonds, and U.S. sanctions prohibit debt restructuring with creditors.
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, despite the country’s increasingly
dire economic situation. They also have provided a scapegoat on which Maduro has blamed the
country’s economic problems, including recent gasoline shortages and COVID-19.
U.N. officials, some experts, and some Members of Congress have urged the Administration to
ease financial and sectoral sanctions on Venezuela, even if Maduro remains in office, so the
country can address COVID-19.111 The Administration, which has continued to impose sanctions
during the pandemic, has maintained that U.S. sanctions on Venezuela include broad exemptions
and authorizations to al ow the provision of humanitarian assistance and the export of food,
medicine, and medical devices, even as the sanctions are designed to limit the Maduro
government’s access to sources of revenue.112
Petroleum Sector Concerns and U.S. Economic Sanctions113
Venezuela’s petroleum sector is a critical element of the country’s economy. Estimates for
calendar year 2018 indicate that oil revenues provided approximately 99% of Venezuela’s export
earnings.114 The importance of oil to Venezuela’s economy has resulted in this sector being a
target of U.S. economic sanctions.
Oil production in Venezuela has been general y declining on an annual basis since 2006, when
production averaged over 3.3 mil ion barrels per day.115 This downward production trend has
been largely attributed to inadequate investment in and mismanagement of the country’s oil
production assets, such as subsidizing the domestic market and some exports, as wel as changes
to oil production fiscal and regulatory frameworks.116 Sanctions imposed by the United States
since 2017 targeting Venezuela’s oil sector and PdVSA arguably have accelerated Venezuela’s oil
production decline (see Figure 4). However, quantifying actual production volumes affected by
U.S. sanctions is difficult due to the downward production trend observed prior to sanctions being
imposed.117

110 Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Report: Venezuela, August 5, 2020; U.S. Energy Information Administration.
111 “Ease Sanctions Against Countries Fighting COVID-19: UN Human Rights Chief,” UN News, March 24, 2020;
Cynthia Arnson and Oriana van Praag, “ Venezuela and the Coronavirus: Another Path Is Possible,” Americas
Quarterly
, March 30, 2020; Jack Dietch, “ Democrats Push Back on Sanctions, Citing Coronavirus Fears,” Foreign
Policy,
March 27, 2020.
112 “Fact Sheet: Provision of Humanitarian Assistance and T rade to Combat COVID-19,” Office of Foreign Assets
Control (OFAC), U.S. Department of T reasury, April 16, 2020; “ Guidance Related to the Provision of Humanitarian
Assistance and Support to the Venezuelan People,” OFAC, U.S. Department of T reasury, August 6, 2017.
113 T his section was authored by Phillip Brown, Specialist in Energy Policy, and summarizes information contained in
CRS Report R46213, Oil Market Effects from U.S. Econom ic Sanctions: Iran, Russia, Venezuela , by Phillip Brown.
114 Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Venezuela Facts and Figures, at https://www.opec.org/
opec_web/en/about_us/171.htm, accessed February 24, 2020.
115 BP, Statistical Review of World Energy 2020: 69th edition, June 2020.
116 Igor Hernandez and Francisco Monaldi, “Weathering Collapse: An Assessment of the Financial and Operational
Situation of the Venezuelan Oil Industry,” Center for International Development at Harvard University, Nov. 2016.
117 For an analysis of the impact of U.S. sanctions on the Venezuelan economy, including an approach to quantifying
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Figure 4. Venezuela Crude Oil Production and U.S. Imports
(January 2014-June 2020)

Sources: Venezuela’s crude oil production from Energy Intel igence Group’s Oil Market Intel igence publication,
accessed from the Bloomberg Terminal (subscription required). U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude oil 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.
E.O. 13850 authorized prohibiting persons from engaging in transactions with any person
determined to have supported “deceptive practices or corruption” involving the government of
Venezuela (to include PdVSA). Economic sanctions that target Venezuela’s oil sector are the
result of executive orders and administrative actions based on national emergency authorities.118
Since 2017, Venezuela oil-related sanctions general y have focused on three activities: (1) access
to short-term debt finance and cash distributions; (2) petroleum trade between the United States
and Venezuela; and (3) Venezuela oil transactions with non-U.S. buyers.
Limitations on Financial Access
Since August 2017 (E.O. 13808), PdVSA has been prohibited from engaging in transactions with
U.S. persons/entities for new debt with a maturity of greater than 90 days. This limitation has
resulted in difficulties for PdVSA paying for oil-related services and the acquisition of oil
production equipment. Such difficulties have likely contributed to Venezuela’s accelerated oil
production decline. Additional y, the E.O. includes a provision that prevent PdVSA from
receiving cash distributions from its U.S.-based Citgo refining and marketing subsidiary. (For

the amount of Venezuelan oil production that has been affected by U.S. financial and oil trade sanctions, see Francisco
Rodríguez, “Sanctions and the Venezuelan Economy: What t he Data Say,” Torino Economics, June 2019.
118 For additional information about the U.S. economic sanctions framework that affects Venezuela’s oil trade, see CRS
Report R46213, Oil Market Effects from U.S. Econom ic Sanctions: Iran, Russia, Venezuela , by Phillip Brown.
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

additional Citgo information, see the text box Citgo’s Uncertain Future: Multiple Creditors,
Legal Claims, and New Management, above.)
U.S.-Venezuela Petroleum Trade
Petroleum trade between the United States and Venezuela was effectively terminated as of
January 2019, when PdVSA was added to the U.S. Treasury’s Specifical y Designated Nationals
(SDN) list.119 The result of this action was the creation of a petroleum supply constraint for which
PdVSA and U.S. oil buyers have had to adjust. Historical y, U.S.-Venezuela petroleum trade was
bilateral and general y consisted of Venezuela exports of crude oil and U.S. exports of crude oil
and petroleum products. Recently, this trade relationship has been dominated by Venezuela crude
oil exports with certain characteristics that are ideal y suited for the configuration of several U.S.
refineries. The January 2019 action required U.S. refiners to either source similar crude oil types
and other intermediate petroleum products from other suppliers and/or adjust refinery operations
to process different crude oil blends. Temporary price dislocations resulted and were reflected in
price differentials for benchmarks used to price oil in the U.S. Gulf Coast region.120
Economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela also prohibit PdVSA from purchasing diluents—light
crude oil and certain petroleum products—from U.S. suppliers. Diluents are used by PdVSA to
facilitate transportation and processing of Venezuelan crude oil with high viscosity
characteristics. As a result, PdVSA has sourced diluents from other suppliers and modified
operations to produce and transport crude oil with reduced access to diluent materials.
Venezuela Petroleum Trade with Non-U.S. Entities
Prohibiting Venezuela petroleum trade with the United States has resulted in Venezuela seeking
alternative buyers for oil volumes that were previously destined for the United States and
alternative suppliers for diluent and other petroleum products. Venezuela crude oil continued to
be delivered to buyers in China, India, Cuba, and other countries. PdVSA has acquired diluents
and other petroleum products from non-U.S. suppliers such as Russia.
Treasury’s OFAC indicated in January 2019 that petroleum transactions with PdVSA involving
any “nexus” of the U.S. financial system were prohibited.121 An August 2019 executive order
(E.O. 13884) authorizes the blocking of property located in the United States for persons/entities
determined to have assisted PdVSA. Furthermore, E.O. 13850 provides the framework to
designate any person or entity that provides support to the government of Venezuela; such a
designation prevents access to the U.S. financial system. These are designed to discourage non-
U.S. firms from engaging in petroleum transactions with PdVSA.
Efforts to further reduce PdVSA oil transactions with non-U.S. entities have included OFAC
actions to sanction oil shipping vessels and trading companies, as wel as to prohibit barter
transactions that have provided PdVSA with alternative outlets for oil exports and alternative
sources of petroleum imports. Some of these actions include (1) prohibiting transactions with

119 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 For additional information about price differentials related to sanctions imposed on Venezuela, see CRS Report
R46213, Oil Market Effects from U.S. Econom ic Sanctions: Iran, Russia, Venezuela , by Phillip Brown.
121 For additional information, see OFAC’s FAQs, available at https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/
Sanctions/Pages/faq_other.aspx#650.
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PdVSA-owned shipping vessels; 122 (2) targeting vessels that transport Venezuelan oil to Cuba;123
(3) sanctioning two Swiss-incorporated oil trading firms—Rosneft Trading S.A. and TNK
Trading International S.A.124—controlled by Russia’s Rosneft Oil Company;125 (4) designating
other maritime companies and vessels;126 and (5) sanctioning individuals and companies for
sanctions evasion related to an al eged “oil-for-food” program.127
These incremental sanction efforts have made it more difficult for Venezuela to sel and export
crude oil and likely wil increase financial pressure on PdVSA and the Maduro government.
Venezuela’s monthly crude oil exports declined by approximately 90% from January 2017 to
June 2020 (see Figure 5). Other entities can trade Venezuela crude oil—reports indicate this is
happening—but some of this trade is reportedly in the form of “swap” transactions where, for
example, Venezuelan crude oil is exchanged for petroleum products.128 However, these firms may
have to consider and manage the risks and related consequences of being designated by Treasury.
Venezuela crude oil exports could continue, although future export volumes are uncertain, and
PdVSA may have to incur costs—likely in the form of oil price discounts—in order to
compensate traders and buyers to continue oil transactions.
Venezuela’s oil production and trade outlook is uncertain. Economic sanctions directed toward
PdVSA have impacted Venezuela’s crude oil trade. The state-owned company has taken, and wil
likely continue to take, actions that could enable crude oil sales outside of the sanctions-related
trade constraints. In the near term, Venezuelan crude oil production and trade likely wil be a
function of current sanctions and any additional sanctions that might be imposed by the
Administration to discourage non-U.S. oil traders and buyers from transacting with PdVSA.
In February 2020, President Maduro declared an “energy emergency” and created a commission
to focus on increasing PdVSA oil production.129 The Maduro government has previously
indicated that PdVSA aims to produce an average of 2 mil ion barrels per day annual y. However,
crude oil production in the country has been on a declining trajectory for many years and has
been below 1 mil ion barrels per day since the beginning of 2019. Since the February 2020
declaration, the Maduro government has placed new leadership at PdVSA and the oil ministry
and reportedly has considered restructuring parts of the oil sector to al ow for more foreign
investment and participation.130 Exactly what the new PdVSA commission might do and the
potential effectiveness of its actions are unknown.

122 U.S. Department of the T reasury, “Treasury Sanctions Companies Operating in the Oil Sector of the Venezuelan
Economy and T ransporting Oil to Cuba,” press release, April 5, 2019.
123 Ibid.
124 U.S. Department of the T reasury, “ Treasury T argets Russian Oil Brokerage Firm for Supporting Illegitimate
Maduro Regime,” press release, February 18, 2020; U.S. Department of the T reasury, “ Treasury T argets Additional
Russian Oil Brokerage Firm for Continued Support of Maduro Regime,” press release, March 12, 2020.
125 Rosneft subsequently sold its Venezuela assets and trading companies dealing with PdVSA to a company owned by
the Russian Government. See Rosneft, “Rosneft Sells It Venezuelan Assets and Becomes an Owner of 9.6% of its
Share Capital,” press release, March 28, 2020,
126 U.S. Department of the T reasury, “ Treasury T argets Maritime Entities for Supporting Illegitimate Maduro Regime
in the Venezuela Oil T rade,” press release, June 2, 2020.
127 U.S. Department of the T reasury, “ Treasury T argets Sanctions Evasion Network Supporting Corrupt Venezuelan
Actors,” press release, June 18, 2020.
128 Lucia Kassai, “Venezuela T anker T racker: July Oil Exports Rebound With India,” Bloomberg News, July 31, 2020.
129 Fabiola Zerpa, “Maduro Declares ‘Energy Emergency,’ Shakes up PDVSA Leadership,” Bloomberg News,
February 20, 2020.
130 Fabiola Zerpa, “PDVSA’s New Head Has Been Planning a Drastic Reorganization,” Bloomberg News, April 29,
2020.
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

Figure 5. Venezuela Crude Oil Exports
(January 2017-June 2020)

Source: Bloomberg L.P. (subscription required), “Future Venezuela Oil Production and Trade.”
Some U.S. companies had been al owed to continue operating in Venezuela under a General
License (GL) issued and renewed periodical y by OFAC.131 Chevron, Hal iburton, Schlumberger,
Baker Hughes, and Weatherford International previously were authorized to continue working
with PdVSA to maintain their oil production operations in Venezuela. However, in April 2020,
OFAC modified the GL to al ow only for activities limited to essential operations “for the safety
or the preservation” of Venezuelan assets.132 This action could result in less oil production in
Venezuela from facilities operated by these companies.
Increased sanctions pressure on Venezuela’s oil sector has resulted in petroleum trade and
industry relationships that general y had not existed in recent history. Venezuela and Iran—two
countries subject to stringent U.S. economic sanctions—have been trading with each other. In
May 2020, five vessels delivered Iranian gasoline and other petroleum products to Venezuela.133
Further, Iran has provided Venezuela with equipment, supplies, and technical expertise to support
PdVSA refinery operations. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) increased pressure on Iranian
petroleum shipments to Venezuela by filing a complaint and obtaining a warrant to seize
petroleum products aboard four oil tankers.134 U.S. officials announced the seizure of those
tankers, which contained more than 1 mil ion barrels of petroleum products, on August 14,
2020.135

131 General License 8 (GL 8), as periodically renewed and revised, had authorized Chevron, Halliburton, Schlumberger,
Baker Hughes, and Weatherford International to continue their normal operations in Venezuela. GL 8 is available at
https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/programs/pages/venezuela.aspx.
132 Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control, General License No. 8F, “Authorizing T ransactions
Involving Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) Necessary for the Limited Maintenance of Essential Oper ations in
Venezuela for the Wind Down of Operations in Venezuela for Certain Entitites,” April 21, 2020.
133 Patricia Laya, Ben Bartenstein, and Fabiola Zerpa. “Venezuela’s Maduro Defends Right to ‘Freely T rade’ with
Iran,” Bloomberg News, May 25, 2020.
134 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), “Warrant and Complaint Seek Seizure of All Iranian Gasoil Aboard Four
T ankers Headed to Venezuelan Based on Connection to IRGC,” press release, July 2, 2020.
135 U.S. Department of State, “ On U.S. Seizure of Iranian Gasoline Intended for the Illegitimate Maduro Regime,”
August 14, 2020.
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At this time, the future of Venezuela’s oil sector is highly uncertain. Production and trade data
indicate an economic sector that is in continuous decline, and reports suggest the condition of
production, transportation, and refining assets is eroding. Current oil market conditions (i.e.,
relatively low prices, large global inventories, and an uncertain supply/demand balance) enable
the United States to continue tightening Venezuela sanctions with limited risk of price escalation
and negative impacts on consumers. Market conditions could change (e.g., supply shortage, low
inventories, and relatively high prices) in the future, at which point Venezuelan crude oil
production and trade could provide a source of supply that might contribute to a balanced market
and price moderation. A decision to ease sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector in response to high
global oil prices—should such a market condition be realized—could conflict with U.S. foreign
policy objectives. However, the ability of Venezuela’s oil sector to quickly return to even pre-
sanction levels is questionable and may require large amounts of investment and human capital.
Chal enging operating conditions in Venezuela may require expert-level management,
engineering, and other technical competencies for the oil sector to begin the recovery process.
Investment likely would be required to mobilize needed personnel and acquire the technology,
equipment, and supplies needed to revitalize oil production, transportation, and refining assets.
Sources for such investments and the time frame for completing projects deemed necessary are
unknown. Furthermore, even when considering the possibility of political leadership change in
the country, the outlook for oil production in Venezuela is uncertain. Regulatory and fiscal
frameworks may need to be modified, oil market fundamentals (i.e., supply and demand) may be
evaluated, and global environmental policies may need to be considered before investment capital
is committed to Venezuela’s oil sector.
U.S. Assistance
Humanitarian Assistance (Including COVID-19 Assistance)136
The U.S. government is providing humanitarian and emergency food assistance to Venezuela and
helping to coordinate and support regional response efforts. As of May 2020, since FY2017, the
Administration had provided more than $610.6 mil ion in humanitarian funding for the Venezuela
regional crisis, including $534.4 mil ion to support Venezuelan refugees and migrants who fled to
other countries or for the communities hosting them and $76.2 mil ion for humanitarian relief
activities inside Venezuela (since FY2018).137 As of July 29, 2020, the State Department
announced $13.7 mil ion in COVID-related humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people.138
(Humanitarian funding is drawn primarily from the global humanitarian accounts in annual
Department of State-Foreign Operations appropriations.139) The U.S. military has twice deployed

136 Written by Rhoda Margesson, Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy.
137 USAID, “Venezuela Regional Crisis,” Fact Sheet #2, FY2020, May 20, 2020. T hese amounts do not include all
COVID-19 supplemental funding to the region.
138 State Department, “State Department Update: T he United States Continues to Lead the Global Response to COVID-
19,” July 29, 2020. COVID-19 supplemental funding included $9 million provided through USAID/Bureau of
Humanitarian Assistance (International Disaster Assistance/IDA account) and $4.7 million through the State
Department/Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration/PRM (Migration Refugee Assistance/MRA account).
139 U.S. humanitarian assistance for the Venezuela Regional Crisis is drawn primarily from three global humanitarian
accounts, including Migration Refugee Assistance (MRA) administered through the State Department, and
International Disaster Assistance (IDA) and T itle II, PL 480 (Emergency Food Assistance), which are both
administered through USAID.
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a naval hospital ship on medical support deployments.140 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.141
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 (OTI) 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. In recent years, U.S. democracy and human rights assistance appropriated to
Venezuela amounted to $17.5 mil ion in FY2019 (P.L. 116-6) and $30 mil ion in FY2020 (P.L.
116-94).
USAID signed a bilateral agreement with the Guaidó government in October 2019 to expand its
democracy and human rights-related programs in Venezuela and start new health and agriculture
programs. This expansion in programming supports the goals of the interim government to
facilitate a transition to democracy and start to rebuild key sectors damaged by the economic
crisis. Although most of the assistance supports programs in Venezuela, some is also funding
work-related travel, salaries, and secure communications systems for interim government officials
and staff.142 In addition to the democracy-related ESF assistance appropriated by Congress, the
Administration has reprogrammed additional Development Assistance (DA), Global Health
Program (GHP), and Democracy Fund (DF) assistance (See Table 1).143 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.144

140 In December 2018, the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort completed an 11-week medical support deployment
to work with government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras, in par t to assist with arrivals from
Venezuela. T he USNS Com fort completed another five-month deployment that began in June 2019 and included
missions in South American, Central American, and Caribbean countries that are hosting Venezuelan migrants.
141 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, the ICRC, and NGOs, 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.
142 USAID, Congressional Notification (CN) #157, July 11, 2019.
143 USAID, “USAID Administrator Mark Green with Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Carlos Vecchio on Milestone
Bilateral Development Agreement ,” October 8, 2019; U.S. Department of State, Report to Congress on a
Com prehensive Strategy Base on Various Political Scenarios in Venezuela
, February 24, 2020.
144 U.S. Department of State, Report to Congress on a Comprehensive Strategy Base on Various Political Scenarios in
Venezuela
, February 24, 2020.
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Table 1. U.S. Foreign Assistance to Venezuela by Account: FY2017-FY2021 Request
(appropriations in mil ions of current U.S. dol ars)
FY2018
FY2019
FY2020
FY2021
Account
FY2017a
(estimate)a
(estimate)
(estimate)
Total
(request)
DA
9.0
93.1
0.0
0.0
102.1
0.0
ESF
7.0
19.0
18.0
30.0
74.0
0.0
ESDF
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
200.0
GHP
0.0
16.3
5.0
0.0
21.3
5.0
(USAID)
DF
0.0
4.0
0.0
0.0
4.0
0.0
Total
16.0a
132.4a
23.0ab
30.0a
201.4
205.0
Sources: U.S. Department of State, Congressional Budget Justifications for Foreign Operations, FY2017-FY2021; 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
Venezuela.
For FY2021, the Administration requested $5 mil ion in global health assistance for Venezuela
and $200 mil ion in Economic Support and Development Fund funds to support a democratic
transition in Venezuela, as wel as humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans who have fled and the
communities hosting them. According to the request, the budget includes “programming
flexibility” to “support a democratic transition and related needs in Venezuela should
circumstances warrant.” The Administration had requested the authority to transfer up to $500
mil ion between foreign aid accounts to support a democratic transition or respond to a crisis in
Venezuela in FY2020; Congress did not approve that request in P.L. 116-94.
The House-passed version of the FY2021 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related
Programs appropriations bil , Division A of H.R. 7608 (H.Rept. 116-444), approved July 24,
2020, would provide not less than $30 mil ion for programs in Venezuela. H.Rept. 116-444
expresses support for the provision of additional assistance in the event that there is a democratic
transition. The report also urges the administrator of USAID to provide International Disaster
Assistance and Migration and Refugee Assistance help to respond to humanitarian needs resulting
from the Venezuelan migration, both inside Venezuela and in the region. H.Rept. 116-444 directs
Voice of America to continue to focus programming in Venezuela and urges the Open Technology
Fund to focus on preserving internet freedom in Venezuela.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has funded democracy projects in Venezuela
since 1992. U.S. funding for NED is provided in the annual State Department and Foreign
Operations appropriations measure, but country al ocations for NED are not specified in the
legislation. In 2019, NED funded 41 projects in Venezuela totaling more than $2.5 mil ion.
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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 2019, Venezuela ranked
173 out of 180 countries covered in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.145
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.146 These criminal networks have linkages to
foreign terrorist organizations such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and
the National Liberation Army (ELN).147 The Maduro government al egedly also has ties to
terrorist groups such as Hezbollah through various intermediaries (see “U.S. Concerns About
Terrorism”).148
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, reportedly
recruit Venezuelans to cultivate coca, the plant component of cocaine.149 The Rastrojos, a criminal
group of former Colombian paramilitaries, reportedly controls important gasoline smuggling
routes between Venezuela and Colombia. A February 2020 International Crisis Group study
maintains that both FARC dissidents and ELN fighters are heavily involved in il egal gold
mining.150 Violence among these and other criminal groups has escalated.

145 U.S. Department of the T reasury, “Treasury Disrupts Corruption Network Stealing From Venezuela’s Food
Distribution Program, CLAP,” July 25, 2019.
146 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.
147“Cartel of the Suns,” Insight Crime, October 31, 2016, at https://www.insightcrime.org/venezuela-organized-crime-
news/cartel-de-los-soles-profile/.
148 “Cape Verde Court Approves US Extradition of Maduro Financier for Money Laundering,” Jurist, August 6, 2020.
149 Helen Murphy and Luis Jaime Acosta, “Exclusive: Colombian Armed Groups Recruiting Desperate Venezuelans,
Army Says,” Reuters, June 20, 2019.
150 International Crisis Group, A Glut of Arms: Curbing the Threat to Venezuela from Violent Groups, February 2020.
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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.151
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
U.S. Indictment of Top Venezuelan
August 2019, President Trump again
Officials
designated Venezuela as a country not
On March 26, 2020, Attorney General Wil iam Barr
adhering to its antidrug obligations.152 At the
announced the indictment of Venezuela’s leader, Nicolás
same time, President Trump waived
Maduro, and 14 other current and former high-ranking
Venezuelan officials. As charged, Maduro al egedly
economic sanctions that would have curtailed
participated in the Cartel of the Suns drug trafficking
U.S. assistance for democracy programs.
organization in conspiracy with the Colombian terrorist
organization the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
The State Department reported in its 2020
Colombia (FARC) to produce and traffic il icit drugs to
International Narcotics Control Strategy
the United States. Some 12 of the 18 individuals also are
Report (INCSR) that Venezuela was one of
subject to U.S. sanctions (related to the situation in
the preferred trafficking routes for the transit
Venezuela, narcotics trafficking, or both). In addition to
of il icit drugs out of South America,
narcoterrorism conspiracy, the charges include drug
trafficking, money laundering, and weapons charges. The
especial y cocaine, because of the country’s
State Department is offering a total of up to $55 mil ion
porous border with Colombia, economic
for information leading to the arrest, conviction, or both
crisis, weak judicial system, lacking
of five of these individuals (including Maduro).
international counternarcotics cooperation,
See CRS Insight IN11306, U.S. Indictment of Top
and permissive and corrupt environment.
Venezuelan Officials.
According to the INCSR, Venezuelan
authorities “failed to make demonstrable efforts to combat il egal drug activity and prosecute
corrupt officials or suspected drug traffickers, including those sanctioned by the United States
government.”153
U.S. authorities have taken action against Maduro officials and their relatives involved in drug
trafficking and related crimes.154 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
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.

151 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.
152 T he White House, “Presidential Determination—Major Drug T ransit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for
Fiscal Year 2020,” August 8, 2019.
153 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, 2019 INCSR, vol. 1.
154 Sources for this paragraph include the following: “Spain Approves Extradition of Venezuela’s ex -spy Chief to the
United States,” Reuters, March 3, 2020; DOJ, 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 T he Foreign
Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act ,” March 8, 2019.
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On April 1, 2020, President Trump announced the deployment of additional U.S. naval
counterdrug assets to the Caribbean. With cooperation from partner governments, the operation
has aimed to curb drug trafficking emanating from Venezuela. U.S. officials have reported that as
of August 2020, the operation has seized more than 100 metric tons of cocaine and denied the
Maduro government $3 bil ion in il icit revenue.155
Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture
In addition to drug trafficking, the 2020 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 2019 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.
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.156 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.157 The Department of the
Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (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.158 Some observers have expressed concern that
U.S. seizures of Venezuelan assets may be used for U.S. law enforcement entities and have
advocated that they instead be redistributed to the Guaidó administration or toward a charitable
cause that would benefit the Venezuelan people.159 According to press reporting, the
Administration intends to permit the Guaidó government to use $20 mil ion in forfeited assets to

155 For initial results of that effort, see T he White House, “ Remarks by President T rump in Briefing on SOUT HCOM
Enhanced Counternarcotics Operations,” July 10, 2020; Abrams testimony, August 4, 2020;
156 Joshua Goodman, “U.S. Prosecutor in Miami T argeting Venezuela Graft Is Leaving,” AP, August 14, 2020.
157 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.
158 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 https://www.justice.gov/afp/fund/.
159 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.
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address the COVID-19 crisis, including the provision of a monthly bonus to health care
workers.160
The Treasury Department has helped countries develop the legal and technical capacity to block
transactions and seize assets.161 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.162
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).163 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.164 According to numerous reports, the il egal mining industry also
commits various 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.165
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.166 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
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.

160 Karen DeYoung and Anthony Faiola, “Venezuela: T rump Administration T aps Frozen Funds in Effort to Oust
Venezuelan Leader,” Washington Post, August 21, 2020.
161 Karen DeYoung and Anthony Faiola, “Venezuela: T rump Administration T aps Frozen Funds in Effort to Oust
Venezuelan Leader,” Washington Post, August 21, 2020.
162 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; Atlantic Council, Transcript: Countering the Maduro Regim e’s Global
web of Illicit Activities
, August 14, 2020, at https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/commentary/transcript/transcript-
countering-the-maduro-regimes-global-web-of-illicit-activities/.
163 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.
164 International Crisis Group, Gold and Grief in Venezuela’s Violent South, February 2019.
165 Atlantic Council, “T ranscript: Countering the Maduro Regime’s Global Web of Illicit Activities,” August 14, 2020.
166 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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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.167
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, 2020.168
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 Hezbol ah, 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.169
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.170 The DOJ also has charged a former Venezuelan legislator, Adel el Zabayar,
with involvement in weapons for cocaine negotiations between the FARC and Hezbollah and
Hamas.171 Analysts have criticized the indictment for failing to provide conclusive evidence.172

167 U.S. Department of State, CN #218, August 15, 2019.
168 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.
169 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2019, June 24, 2020.
170 A Cape Verdean court has approved Saab’s extradition to the United States to stand trial for laundering money for
Nicolás Maduro. DOJ, “United States v. Alex Nain Saab Moran, Docket No. 19-CR-20450-RNS,” July 25, 2019;
“Cape Verde Court Approves US Extradition of Maduro Financier for Money Laundering,” Jurist, August 6, 2020.
171 DOJ, “Former Member Of Venezuelan National Assembly Charged With Narco -T errorism, Drug T rafficking, And
Weapons Offenses,” May 27, 2020.
172 “US Indictment Claims Venezuelan Politician Linked to Hezbollah, Hamas,” Insight Crime, May 29, 2020.
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link to page 43 Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations

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.
Outlook
Since 2017, analysts have debated how long Maduro can retain his grip on power and what
measures might hasten a return to democracy in Venezuela. With his second term widely regarded
as il egitimate within Venezuela and by much of the international community, Maduro has faced
tough sanctions and a reenergized opposition under the leadership of Interim President Juan
Guaidó. Despite two bold efforts in 2019 by Guaidó and his supporters to encourage the
Venezuelan military to abandon Maduro and sustained international pressure against him, Maduro
remains the de facto leader of Venezuela. Given the rapidly deteriorating economic and
humanitarian conditions in the country that are affecting the entire region, resolving the political
crisis in Venezuela remains a top U.S. foreign policy priority. At the same time, although the
prospect of a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela was discussed by top Administration
officials in early 2019, it has not been publicly mentioned over the past year or so.
In 2020, political attention in Venezuela and among those following the crisis international y has
been focused on the December 6, 2020, legislative elections. With the Guaidó-led opposition
boycotting and the United States, the EU, and most Western Hemisphere countries refusing to
recognize the elections’ validity, the path forward to a democratic transition has become
decidedly less clear. Some observers have urged the Trump Administration to take even more
aggressive measures to bring about a political resolution, such as increased secondary sanctions.
Others argue that such actions could worsen the humanitarian situation, maintaining that support
for a negotiated solution is the best course of action. In the absence of a political transition, the
deteriorating humanitarian situation could increase pressure on U.S. al ies throughout Latin
America and the Caribbean that are hosting the majority of Venezuelans who have fled.
The 116th Congress has closely followed developments in Venezuela, held oversight hearings to
review the Trump Administration’s policy responses, and developed and passed comprehensive
legislation that aims to advance a negotiated solution to Venezuela’s crisis. For example,
Congress enacted the VERDAD Act of 2019 (S. 1025) as part of Division J, Title 1, of the Further
Continuing Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94). It remains unclear whether the Senate wil
take up House-passed legislation (H.R. 549) that would give Venezuelans Temporary Protected
Status. In the meantime, Congress is considering the Administration’s FY2021 budget request for
Venezuela and for humanitarian support for countries sheltering Venezuelans and overseeing U.S.
funding and sanctions related to the Venezuela crisis. For more information on legislative
initiatives on Venezuela in the 116th Congress, see Appendix A.
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Appendix A. Legislative Initiatives in the 116th
Congress

Enacted Legislation
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.
1151
, 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.
Legislative Initiatives Incorporated into Bills Passed Into Law
The following bil s were incorporated into other bil s passed into law.
H.R. 854 (Mucarsel-Powell), the Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan People Act of
2019, would require a strategy within 180 days of its enactment from the Department of State and
USAID on the delivery of humanitarian assistance within Venezuela and for Venezuelans
throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Introduced January 29, 2019; amended and reported
out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee March 14, 2019; House approved, as amended,
March 25, 2019. (Incorporated into P.L. 116-94 above.)
H.R. 920 (Shalala), the Venezuela Arms Restriction Act, would restrict the transfer of defense
articles, defense services, and crime control articles to any element of the security forces of
Venezuela under the authority of a government of Venezuela that is not recognized as the
legitimate government of Venezuela by the government of the United States (i.e., the Maduro
government). It would require a report within 180 days of the enactment of the act on the transfer
of covered articles or services to the Maduro government since July 2017. Introduced January 30,
2019; reported out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee March 14, 2019; House approved
March 25, 2019. (Incorporated into P.L. 116-94 above.)
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H.R. 1477 (Wasserman Schultz), the Russian-Venezuelan Threat Mitigation Act, would
require the Secretary of State to submit an assessment within 120 days of its enactment on
Russian-Venezuelan security cooperation and the potential threat such cooperation poses to the
United States and countries in the Western Hemisphere. Introduced February 28, 2019; reported
out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee March 14, 2019; approved by the House March 25,
2019. (Incorporated into P.L. 116-94 above.)
S. 1025 (Menendez), the VERDAD Act of 2019, would establish as U.S. policy the pursuit of a
peaceful, diplomatic solution to the Venezuelan crisis; authorize $400 mil ion in new
humanitarian assistance; prohibit visas for the family members of sanctioned individuals but
establish a waiver with conditions to lift visa restrictions; remove sanctions on designated
individuals not involved in human rights abuses if they recognize Venezuela’s interim president;
require the State Department to work with Latin American and European governments to
implement their own sanctions; require the Departments of State, Treasury, and Justice to lead
international efforts to freeze, recover, and repurpose the corrupt financial holdings of Venezuelan
officials; and accelerate planning with international financial institutions on the economic
reconstruction of Venezuela contingent upon the restoration of democratic governance.
Introduced April 22, 2019; reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute to include
three House measures (H.R. 854, H.R. 920, and H.R. 1477) out of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee May 22, 2019. (Incorporated into P.L. 116-94 above.)
H.R. 2204 (Waltz)/S. 1151 (Scott), the Venezuelan Contracting Restriction Act, would
prohibit an executive agency from entering into a contract for the procurement of goods or
services with any person that has business relations with an authority of the Maduro government.
Introduced in the House April 10, 2019; referred to the House Committee on Government
Reform. Introduced in the Senate April 11, 2019; reported with an amendment in the nature of a
substitute by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee September 19,
2019 (S.Rept. 116-85). (Incorporated into P.L. 116-92 above.)
H.R. 2500 (Smith), the National Defense Authorization Act, FY2020, would incorporate
language similar to that of (H.R. 2204, S. 1151, and S. 1790) that would prohibit federal
contracting with persons who do business with the Maduro government. Introduced May 2, 2019;
amended by the House Committee on Armed Services (H.Rept. 116-120), House approved July
12, 2019. (For further action, see P.L. 116-92 above.)
H.R. 2740 (DeLauro), Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Defense, State,
Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, FY2020,
incorporates the language of H.R. 2839 as Division D and references the report (H.Rept. 116-78)
to H.R. 2839. It would provide $17.5 mil ion for democracy and rule of law programs in
Venezuela. Introduced and reported out of the Appropriations Committee May 15, 2019 (H.Rept.
116-62), House approved as amended June 19, 2019. (Incorporated into P.L. 116-94 above.)
H.R. 2839 (Lowey), the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Appropriations Act, FY2020,
would provide $17.5 mil ion in democracy and human rights aid
to Venezuela. The report (H.Rept. 116-78) would direct Migration and Refugee Assistance and
International Disaster Assistance to addressing the Venezuela migration crisis. Introduced and
reported out of the Appropriations Committee May 20, 2019 (H.Rept. 116-78). (For further
action, see H.R. 2470 and P.L. 116-94 above.)
S. 2583 (Graham), the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Appropriations Act, FY2020,
would require a strategy for U.S. assistance under various
scenarios for U.S. assistance in Venezuela. Introduced September 26, 2019; referred to the
Committee on Appropriations. (See P.L. 116-94 above.)
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Selected Legislative Initiatives
H.R. 1004 (Cicilline)
,the Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela Act, would
prohibit funds made available to federal departments or agencies from being used to introduce the
armed forces of the United States into hostilities with Venezuela, except pursuant to (1) a
declaration of war, (2) a specific statutory authorization that meets the requirements of the War
Powers Resolution and is enacted after the enactment of this bil , or (3) a national emergency
created by attack upon the United States or the armed forces. Introduced February 6, 2019;
referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Armed Services Committee;
House Foreign Affairs Committee reported, as amended, April 9, 2019.
H.R. 549 (Soto), the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019, would al ow certain Venezuelan nationals
residing in the United States to qualify for temporary protected status, which prevents their
removal from the United States and al ows them to obtain employment and travel authorization.
Introduced January 15, 2019; amended and reported (H.Rept. 116-168) out of the House
Judiciary Committee May 22, 2019; House approved July 25, 2019.
H.R. 6395 (Smith), the National Defense Authorization Act, FY2021, would require a report
within 120 days of the act’s enactment on the political, economic, health, and humanitarian crisis
in Venezuela and its implications for United States national security and regional security.
Introduced March 26, 2020, reported as amended July 9, 2020 (H.Rept. 116-442), House
approved July 21, 2020.
H.R. 7608 (Lowey), the State, Foreign Operations, Agriculture, Rural Development,
Interior, Environment, Military Construction, and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act,

FY2021, would provide at least $30 mil ion in democracy assistance to Venezuela. H.Rept. 116-
444
expresses support for the provision of additional assistance in the event that there is a
democratic transition. The report also urges the Administrator of USAID to provide International
Disaster Assistance and Migration and Refugee Assistance help respond to humanitarian needs
resulting from the Venezuelan migration, both inside Venezuela and in the region. H.Rept. 116-
444 directs Voice of America to continue to focus programming in Venezuela and urges the Open
Technology Fund to focus on preserving internet freedom in Venezuela.
S. 636 (Menendez), the Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2019, would designate
Venezuela under Section 244 of the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit nationals of
Venezuela to be eligible for Temporary Protected Status under such section. Introduced February
28, 2019; referred to the Judiciary Committee.
S.J.Res. 11 (Merkley), the Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela
Resolution of 2019,
would prohibit U.S. department or agency funding from being used to
introduce armed forces into hostilities with Venezuela, except pursuant to a specific statutory
authorization by Congress enacted after this joint resolution. Introduced February 28, 2019.
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Appendix B. Online Human Rights Reporting on
Venezuela

Table B-1. Online Human Rights Reporting on Venezuela
Organization
Document/Link
Amnesty International
The State of the World’s Human Rights,
https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/
venezuela/report-venezuela/
Committee to Protect Journalists
http://www.cpj.org/americas/venezuela/
Foro Penal Venezolano
http://foropenal.com/
Human Rights Watch
http://www.hrw.org/en/americas/venezuela
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
http://www.cidh.oas.org/DefaultE.htm;
(IACHR)
Annual Report of the IACHR 2018, 2019, chapter IV
includes a special report on Venezuela,
http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/docs/annual/2018/TOC.asp
Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en
http://www.derechos.org.ve/
Derechos Humanos (PROVEA)
Reporters Without Borders
https://rsf.org/en/venezuela
U.S. State Department
Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2018, March
13, 2019, https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-
reports-on-human-rights-practices/
Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights
Blog hosted by the Washington Office on Latin
America, http://venezuelablog.tumblr.com
Source: Congressional Research Service.



Author Information

Clare Ribando Seelke, Coordinator
Phillip Brown
Specialist in Latin American Affairs
Specialist in Energy Policy


Rebecca M. Nelson
Rhoda Margesson
Specialist in International Trade and Finance
Acting Section Research Manager



Acknowledgments
Carla Davis-Castro, Research Librarian, contributed charts and background information for this report.
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Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations



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