McCaul's comments come in response to the administration's recent decision to temporarily suspend some sanctions on Venezuela's crucial oil sector, a move he believes will only serve to enrich the regime of President Nicolas Maduro without ensuring democratic elections.
The suspension of sanctions was intended to encourage the Maduro regime to allow Venezuela's political opposition to select a candidate and compete freely in the 2024 elections. However, McCaul, in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, expressed his concern that the Venezuelan people remain without a viable path for free and fair elections. "This outcome is, unfortunately, all too familiar and predictable," McCaul wrote. "It fits as part of a pattern of failed appeasement by the administration of anti-American forces that is routinely exploited by our adversaries like China, Russia, and Iran."
The Maduro regime has a notorious history of imprisoning opposition figures and has presided over a collapsed economy that has resulted in a significant humanitarian crisis and regional instability. Maduro, a disciple of the late anti-U.S. President Hugo Chavez, secured a second six-year term in 2018 in an election widely dismissed as fraudulent both domestically and internationally.
The Biden administration, in a surprising move last month, eased Trump-era sanctions on Venezuelan oil, hoping that economic incentives and diplomatic engagement would persuade Maduro to uphold his commitment to a free and fair presidential election in 2024. However, the regime has responded by intensifying its attacks on democracy, notably by attempting to disqualify pro-democracy activist Maria Corina Machado from running for President.
Following the opposition-run primary on October 22, which saw a turnout of over 2 million voters and a significant victory for Machado, the regime announced an investigation into the entire primary process for alleged money laundering, conspiracy, and financial crimes.
In response to these developments, the Biden administration has proceeded with caution. During an October 31 hearing on Capitol Hill, Blinken stated that the easing of sanctions aimed to encourage the Maduro regime to progress towards elections. He emphasized that the administration retained the ability to "snap [the sanctions] back," and insisted that the regime would not be given a "free pass" for actions contradicting their commitments to free and fair elections.
McCaul, however, questioned this stance in his letter to Blinken, expressing "grave concern" that sanctions were lifted at all and seeking "clarity on the administration's policy." He asked Blinken to confirm whether the administration is prepared to reimpose all sanctions if the Maduro regime fails to lift all legal bans on Machado's participation in the 2024 elections and establish conditions for free and fair elections by November 30, 2023.
The Trump administration's "maximum pressure" policy aimed to oust Maduro from power and limit Venezuela's growing ties to China, Russia, and Iran. Under Trump, the U.S., along with several North American and European powers, recognized Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido as the legitimate President. However, Guaido's inability to unite the opposition or generate much domestic enthusiasm has seen him largely sidelined since President Biden took office.
Machado, for her part, has stated that the Maduro regime made "a huge mistake" by trying to disqualify her from running for President. She believes the regime's actions have drawn international attention and boosted the momentum of the pro-democracy movement.