There’s less than three months to go before the U.S. presidential election on November 3rd. While President Donald Trump is handling the pandemic, the protests for social justice and his reelection campaign, he has trailed former Vice President Joe Biden in polls since March.
Venezuela has been a constant issue in the Trump administration, with the U.S. president being the first to recognize AN Speaker Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president back in 2019. He has also insisted on sanctions. So Venezuelans could wonder how a Democratic presidency could affect the efforts.
Sanctions Aren’t Going Away Easily
According to Juan González, a former advisor to the Obama-Biden administration and advisor to Biden on Latin America, Maduro would have to take significant steps toward democracy before we see sanctions lifted under a Biden administration, like releasing political prisoners and allowing a new CNE board.
“Any lifting of sanctions has to follow actions by the regime,” González said.
Leopoldo Martínez, a Venezuelan lawyer and founder of the Center for Democracy and Development in the Americas based in Washington, D.C., agrees that Biden would consider lifting sanctions if the regime shows signs of moving towards a democratic election and change of power.
But, with the TSJ creating parallel boards of opposition parties and limiting who can participate in the parliamentary elections scheduled for December, one can only wonder how we’ll get there.
Maduro would have to take significant steps toward democracy before we see sanctions lifted under a Biden administration.
González and Martínez said Biden would use sanctions as a tool to pressure the regime and its officials (as Trump has done), but would focus on getting the international community involved. That means the European Union, Canada and the Americas, mostly. González in particular said one of the problems with the Trump administration is the unilateral approach it has taken to sanctions, which leaves the U.S. leading the effort alone.
Both Martínez and González said that Biden would be open to supporting negotiations between Guaidó and the regime, but not without pressuring Maduro and supporting Venezuelans with humanitarian aid.
González said the opposition is the one who needs to determine whether Maduro’s actions are reliable enough to negotiate. Martínez said the international community can only put pressure with sanctions and monitor agreements.
The Welcomed Relief of Temporary Protected Status
Democrats have long called for the Trump administration to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelans. This designation would protect Venezuelans in the U.S. from deportation and allow them to apply for a work permit. The protection is usually designated through an Executive Order, but since Trump didn’t do it in 2019, Congress tried to pass it as bipartisan legislation. Biden not only has expressed his support for TPS publicly, but has already included it in his plan.
According to Martínez, the protection would apply to Venezuelans whose visas have expired or are about to, as well as thousands who are awaiting their asylum processes to conclude. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the House bill to grant TPS would apply to 200,000 Venezuelans.
González said that the Department of Homeland Security typically makes a decision on whether a population is eligible to receive TPS based on input from the Department of State. Since the U.S. already recognizes the crisis in the country and knows that Venezuelans qualify to receive the protection, it’d be a quick process after Biden takes office if he’s elected.
Regarding humanitarian aid, González added that assistance to Venezuela has to be robust, including both Venezuela and the countries in the region that are receiving migrants, like Colombia and Peru.
As the U.S. deals with the economic hardships caused by the pandemic, providing financial assistance to Venezuela could be harder. But, González assures that a democratic Venezuela remains part of the national security interest of the U.S., so helping it and the countries in the region would continue to be a priority.
On August 11th, Biden officially picked California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. The senator has previously expressed her support for granting TPS and backed a democratic transition in Venezuela.
What’s happening in Venezuela is a crisis. The people who have fled Maduro’s dictatorial regime deserve safety and protection. As President, I would immediately extend TPS status to Venezuelans. It’s the right thing to do. America must show moral leadership in this hemisphere.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) February 23, 2019
But, José De Bastos, a journalist and political scientist, said choosing Harris as vice presidential candidate helps Biden more in domestic politics than in international relations. Biden had already said he would choose a woman and it had been hinted that he could choose an African American. Choosing Harris—an 55-year-old African American woman with immigrant parents and experience as an attorney general in California—helps Biden draw the vote of minority and young populations, said De Bastos.
De Bastos added that even while Biden would likely be less aggressive in his foreign policy than Trump, it’s possible that sanctions will continue; especially if the regime continues with its repressive course. A Democratic administration would focus more on promoting negotiations, but if Trump wins, there could also be a change of strategy regarding Venezuela, given that so far the president’s approach hasn’t worked.
With Biden, Venezuela will probably stop being the headline-making topic that it currently is in the U.S., but the intention to help Venezuelans would remain.