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What are the Sanctions on Venezuela?

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Years of economic and political instability have resulted in tighter sanctions being placed on Venezuela by most of the major countries that issue sanctions. A decades-long over-reliance on oil reserves and widespread political corruption are but two long-standing contributors to the crisis, resulting in hyperinflation and a collapsed health care system.

The 2018 Presidential election in Venezuela made headlines worldwide due to vote-rigging in favor of President Nicolás Maduro. Popular opposition leaders were banned from running in the election, and voters were also blackmailed into voting for Maduro if they didn’t want to lose their government food subsidiaries

As the crisis has unfolded, both international trade sanctions and economic sanctions on Venezuela have tightened. While many have noted that limiting the country’s access to international markets has had a further detrimental effect on Venezuela’s economic situation, sanctions on Venezuela are unlikely to be loosened unless the domestic political environment changes significantly. 

US sanctions on Venezuela

The United States first implemented sanctions against Venezuela in 2006 in response to Venezuela’s lack of cooperation on counterterrorism and anti-drug efforts. As a result, the US prohibited all US commercial arms sales and retransfers to Venezuela. In 2008 the US Treasury imposed a further round of sanctions on Venezuela, targeting a set of individuals and two travel agencies who had been financially supporting the radical Lebanon-based Islamic Shiite group, Hezbollah. 

Six years later, the US introduced the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. This law requires the US President to issue sanctions against those deemed responsible for significant acts of violence, antidemocratic actions, or serious human rights abuses. 

In 2015, the Obama administration issued Executive Order (EO) 13692, which declared the situation in Venezuela a national emergency. The EO targets persons involved in or responsible for:

  • Eroding human rights guarantees
  • Persecuting political opponents
  • Using violence and violating human rights in response to anti-government protests
  • Curtailing press freedoms
  • Arbitrarily arresting and detaining antigovernment protestors
  • Public corruption by senior government officials in the country

Pursuant to EO 13692, 113 Venezuelans and at least eight entities have been sanctioned by the US as of January 2021. 

EU sanctions on Venezuela

The EU has imposed sanctions on Venezuela since 2017 in light of the country’s deteriorating democratic situation (Council Decision (CFSP) 2017/2074). The sanctions included an embargo on arms and on equipment for internal repression and also provided a legal basis for the possible targeted listing of persons.

In 2018, the EU added 11 Venezuelan officials to its sanctions list for “human rights violations and undermining democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela”. Since 2021, 30 more officials have been added to the sanctions list, with 7 members of the security and intelligence forces also being added due to their involvement in torture and other serious violations of human rights. Travel bans and asset freezes apply to all sanctioned individuals – a restriction that the Venezuelan government retaliated against by expelling EU ambassador, Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, from the country in 2021.

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UK sanctions on Venezuela

Following the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU, the UK enforced the Venezuela (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 on December 31 2020.

Similarly to the US and the EU, the UK’s sanctions on Venezuela impose asset freezes on persons responsible for:

  • Initiating policies or activities that undermine democracy or the rule of law in Venezuela
  • The repression of civil society and democratic opposition
  • Serious human rights violations

Since 2020, two amendments have been made to the regulations to remove the “double licensing burden faced by UK persons in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies” due to such individuals being already covered by alternative jurisdiction-specific legislation.

Canada sanctions on Venezuela

Canada first implemented unilateral economic sanctions on Venezuela in September 2017 under the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA). This was in response to the Association between Canada and the United States that was formed earlier that month, which urged member states to “take economic measures against Venezuela and persons responsible for the current situation in Venezuela”.

In November 2017, Canada imposed its first round of Magnitsky sanctions shortly after the  Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials (Sergei Magnitsky Law) Act was passed, pertaining to 43 Venezuelan officials. In response to the 2018 Presidential election in Venezuela, a further 14 names were added to the SEMA Designated Persons list, including Maduro’s wife and the late President Hugo Chavez’s wider family members. Individuals on these lists are subject to asset freezes and are prohibited from receiving financial services, property, or goods from persons in Canada and any Canadian outside Canada.

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Originally published April 25, 2022, updated May 6, 2022

Disclaimer: This is for general information only. The information presented does not constitute legal advice. ComplyAdvantage accepts no responsibility for any information contained herein and disclaims and excludes any liability in respect of the contents or for action taken based on this information.

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