Democrats pressure Biden to review US sanctions on Venezuela

A U.S. senator urged the Biden administration Tuesday to lift a ban on diesel fuel swaps with Venezuela adding to pressure from some Democrats and aid workers who argue sanctions are worsening the South American country’s dire humanitarian crisis.

The Trump administration in November barred non-U.S. companies from sending diesel to Venezuela in exchange for the country’s crude oil. Previously, such swaps had been exempted from U.S. sanctions aimed at ousting President Nicolás Maduro because of the critical role diesel plays in public transport and helping farmers move food supplies to market in diesel-powered trucks.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken calling for the U.S. to end what he called the “misguided” policy. He said that immediately restoring diesel swaps would “provide lifesaving relief for millions of Venezuelans” as current diesel reserves are expected to run critically low by April.

The ban “has created no real political leverage with Maduro, who was able to maneuver around the unilateral sanctions, and instead threatens to severely worsen the already dire humanitarian situation in the country,” Murphy wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press.

Murphy’s request comes as the Biden administration reviews U.S. policy toward Venezuela with the goal of building a multilateral front against Maduro and ensuring humanitarian aid gets to Venezuelans in need. It also would seem to reinforce tentative steps by Maduro and the U.S.-backed opposition to work together to jointly address Venezuela’s crisis, beginning with a deal to import badly needed coronavirus vaccines.

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