© Reuters. United States Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian A. Nichols listens to a question during a news conference, in San Salvador, El Salvador October 27, 2023. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File Photo
By Julia Symmes Cobb and Marianna Parraga
BOGOTA/HOUSTON (Reuters) -The U.S. continues to engage with representatives from the government of President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, State Department official Brian A. Nichols said on Tuesday, as the Biden administration considers whether to reinstate energy sanctions on the country.
The U.S. has said the Maduro government failed to meet certain conditions to avoid a reversal of some or all of the October relaxations.
“We are continuing to engage in conversations with Maduro representatives as well as close consultations with the democratic opposition in Venezuela, around finding ways to create the conditions for a more democratic, prosperous and secure Venezuela,” Nichols said during a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council.
Washington wanted the Maduro government take steps to lift public office bans on opposition candidates as well as begin work to release political prisoners and “wrongfully detained” Americans by Nov. 30.
Maduro’s administration has begun meeting only one of those requirements, allowing opposition figures barred from public office to defend their cases before the country’s top tribunal.
“The Maduro authorities need to demonstrate the courage to allow a serious opposition candidate to run in the election,” Nichols said. “That process needs to conclude by the time of invoking of a formal election.”
The winner of the opposition’s 2024 presidential primary, Maria Corina Machado, is among those barred from office.
“The major change going forward is making sure that (Machado’s) views are taken into account,” Nichols said.
The sanctions relaxation has meant previous illicit trade of oil is moving back into the formal sector, including to the United States, Nichols added.
Since October, Venezuelan oil is being sold again by trading houses that used to be customers of state company PDVSA. But they are buying from little known intermediaries, according to documents and sources. PDVSA’s largest customers continue trying to restore direct trade.
“(This is) good for us consumers because we’re getting oil and other products into our markets,” Nichols said.
The release of wrongfully detained Americans is incredibly important to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Nichols said. Savoi Wright, a fourth U.S. citizen arrested, has been added to the list of those held unfairly.
Washington issued a six-month general license authorizing U.S. transactions with Venezuela’s oil and gas sector and a second license authorizing operations of state gold mining company Minerven.
It also removed a U.S. prohibition on secondary-market trading of Venezuelan sovereign bonds, all in response to a deal between the government and the opposition on the election.
The U.S. has not specified which of the sanctions-easing measures could be reversed first.