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What Should Biden Do About Venezuela?

Former US President Donald Trump's policy of maximum pressure on the Venezuelan dictatorship failed to dislodge the regime or alleviate the humanitarian crisis. If Joe Biden is to succeed, he will need a policy that makes life as burdensome as possible for the elite and as bearable and democratic as possible for ordinary Venezuelans.

CAMBRIDGE – Imagine you are driving down a road and arrive at a junction. You are not sure where to go, so you turn right. After some time, the road becomes unpaved, bumpy, and steep. The first thought that comes to mind is that you should have gone left. But, truth be told, you do not know if that would have led to a dead-end street. This is how many within and outside Venezuela feel about the country today.

After all, former US President Donald Trump’s strategy of maximum pressure on the dictatorship, reflected in myriad sanctions imposed on the country, neither restored democracy nor addressed the country’s catastrophic economic and humanitarian crisis. According to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela’s GDP in 2020 was over 75% below its 2013 level – a globally unprecedented peacetime collapse (and worse than the impact of most wars). Small wonder that over five million people, some 15% of the population, have left the country since 2015.

With Trump out, President Joe Biden’s administration has announced a foreign policy centered around the defense of democracy. How should it deal with Venezuela, given that previous efforts to restore democracy and prosperity have not delivered either?