NEW YORK (AP) — Venezuela’s government and opposition have reached an agreement on new electoral conditions that once signed Tuesday will trigger relief from U.S. energy sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro’s administration, according to a person familiar with the outline of deal.
Venezuela’s government agreed to open up the electoral process, including allowing European Union observers and creating a process for lifting bans that have blocked his top opponents from running for president, to level what is widely seen as an unfair playing field, the person said Monday.
If Maduro doesn’t live up to his end of the bargain, the sanctions will be imposed again, according to the person, who insisted on not being quoted by name as a condition to discuss the agreement before it was signed.
Venezuela’s government and opposition were scheduled to resume their Norway-mediated dialogue in Barbados on Tuesday, the Norwegian Embassy in Mexico said. But it appeared an agreement was already within reach because a signing ceremony was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Mexico hosted multiple rounds of talks in 2021 and 2022. When the sides last met, in November 2022, they agreed to create a U.N.-managed fund to finance health, food and education programs for the poor while the U.S. government agreed to allow oil giant Chevron to pump Venezuelan oil.
Colombia and other countries have tried in recent months to restart negotiations between the sides, but Maduro has demanded that the U.S. drop economic sanctions and unfreeze Venezuelan funds held overseas as a condition of resuming talks.
Norway’s statement Monday said the two sides had decided to resume the dialogue “with the objective of reaching a political agreement.”
On Monday evening, Maduro said on Venezuela’s national television that “we are going to move ahead with sanctions or without sanctions. If we manage to get them lifted, great, if they’re kept in place, we move foward and we will overcome.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller welcomed the announcement of negotiations in Barbados and said in a statement that the U.S. government would “continue its efforts to unite the international community in support of the Venezuelan-led negotiation process.”
Earlier Monday, a U.S. official who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations said there was no “deal” between the U.S. government and Venezuela.
The official said the Biden administration supported Venezuelan-led negotiations and was prepared to provide relief from sanctions in response to concrete actions toward holding competitive elections.
The dialogue formally began in September 2021, but President Maduro’s delegates walked away from negotiations in October 2021 after Colombia-born businessman Alex Saab was extradited on money laundering charges from Cape Verde to the U.S. Maduro conditioned a resumption on the release of Saab.
The political, social and economic crisis that has come to define Venezuela has evolved since it began a decade ago as a result of a global drop in the price of oil, Venezuela’s most valuable resource, mismanagement by the self-proclaimed socialist administration and government repression of its opponents.
A brief period of relative economic stability has again been shaken by jumping food prices, business closures and another wave of emigration.
Some members of the Venezuelan opposition celebrated Norway’s announcement.
Luis Florido, a former exiled opposition lawmaker, said on X that only through negotiations would Venezuelans be able to restore democracy through the ballot box.
“You won’t get everything you want, but you will make progress,” he said of the negotiations.
The presence of election observers, however, has not seraved as discouragement for the government to carry out old tactics. The EU deployed dozens of observers to Venezuela for the 2021 regional elections, which many remember for the government’s move to disqualify an opposition gubernatorial candidate when results showed he was ahead of one of Chavez’s siblings.
The talks were scheduled to take place in Bridgetown, Barbados.
Garcia Cano reported from Caracas. Associated Press writers Fatima Hussein and Josh Boak in Washington and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.