Foreign Relations

Should the U.S. ease its economic sanctions against Venezuela?

The humanitarian and economic situation in Venezuela has been dire for years, particularly since the alleged fraudulent elections that reinstated Nicolas Maduro as president in early 2019. The United States has responded with severe sanctions, but since the situation has not improved, many are now questioning whether this strategy is effective.

Rise of the Issue

The United States has had sanctions against Venezuela for over 15 years. Unsatisfied with the Chavez administration’s contributions to antiterrorist efforts, the Bush Administration prohibited the sale of new arms and parts to Venezuela in 2005. The Obama Administration added target sanctions against individuals for human rights abuses, corruption and antidemocratic actions. The United States’ policy towards Venezuela took a turn under president Trump, who imposed wide-spread economic sanctions after alleged sham elections that re-declared Nicolás Maduro president in 2019.

The humanitarian situation in Venezuela has been in a downward spiral ever since. Some blame the United States and its sanctions for the hyperinflation, health crisis and outflow of refugees. Others say that while the United States sanctions probably exacerbated the situation, Venezuela’s problems were caused by its authoritarian government and not US measures.

Issue Timeline


Nicolás Maduro Rises to Power

The death of former President Hugo Chavez leaves his Vice-President Nicolás Maduro in charge, who is then democratically elected president.


Nicolás Maduro is Declared Re-Elected

The elections – of which Maduro was said to be the winner – is highly questioned by analysts and human rights groups.

Jan. 2019

Juan Guaidó Declares Himself Acting President

With Maduro’s presidency contested both within Venezuela and by other countries, leader of the National Assembly Guaidó steps in.

Aug. 2019

Trump Administration Freezes Venezuelan Government Assets

In what is widely considered a radical shift in the United States’ policy towards Venezuela, the Trump Administration freezes all Venezuelan government assets in the U.S. and allows sanctions against any person, business or other entity assisting the Maduro administration.


U.S. Moves to Ease Sanctions on Venezuela

In a bid to open the door to negotiations between the Venezuelan government and its opposition, the United States intends to ease some economic sanctions on the South-American country.

Micro Issues



While one side says the United States’ sanctions played a large role in Venezuela’s crisis, the other side thinks Venezuela’s government is responsible for the situation in the country, which already existed prior to the sanctions.


Humanitarian Crisis

Supporters believe lifting sanctions would help improve circumstances, while opponents argue that easing restrictions will not solve the humanitarian crisis.



Supporters want to show a sign of goodwill towards the Venezuelan government to further negotiations, while opponents do not want to reward their lack of improvement.

Pro Arguments


The sanctions hit poorest Venezuelans the hardest.

Hyperinflation – exacerbated by the sanctions - has caused prices to rise astronomically. This had the biggest effect on people that were already struggling, leading to more malnutrition and even deaths.


Easing restrictions can help negotiate fair and free elections.

The United States’ easing of sanctions can help facilitate a conversation between President Maduro’s government and the US-backed opposition about how to organize fair, free elections.


Lifting sanctions decreases Venezuela’s dependency on Russia and China.

The U.S. sanctions against Venezuela made it even more dependent on Russia and China for its capital than on Western nations. Easing sanctions could mean they turn more to the West for their finances.


Easing sanctions is a sign of goodwill.

The Venezuelan government has often blamed the United States sanctions for creating issues in its country. Easing restrictions will show that the U.S. means well for the Venezuelan people.


Easing restrictions can help with Venezuela’s healthcare crisis.

Most of Venezuela’s money to buy medicine and medical equipment comes from oil sales. As sanctions have drastically impacted Venezuela’s oil production and export, it also greatly impacted the Venezuelan healthcare system.

Con Arguments


Venezuela’s government has not improved since the sanctions were imposed.

Sanctions are measures meant to be kept in place until a regime changes its behavior. Lifting restrictions when it has not done so is counterintuitive.


The sanctions were not the root cause of Venezuela’s economic crisis.

Many factors contributed to hyperinflation in Venezuela, and easing sanctions is not going to fix Venezuela’s economic problems overnight.


Easing sanctions will not send money directly to the people.

Easing sanctions makes more funds available to the Venezuelan authorities. There is no certainty on how authorities will spend the additional capital.


Nicolás Maduro is still in power.

Many of the more recent sanctions were imposed because the US did not agree with the Maduro government – that has not changed.


Lifting sanctions will not solve the refugee crisis.

6 million people have left Venezuela to escape the dire situation in the country, making it the “second-largest external displacement crisis in the world.” Easing restrictions will not be enough to have all those people go back home.