What would a Joe Biden presidency mean for Venezuela?

Venezuela is struggling with 2,400 percent inflation and US sanctions under Trump. Would Biden be different?

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela''s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during an event with the youth of Venezuela''s United Socialist Party in Caracas
'Whether Trump or Biden wins, we will confront and defeat him,' Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said, leaving little doubt as to his intentions toward whomever finds himself in the Oval Office in January [File: Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters]

When asked about whom they would prefer as the next United States president, many ordinary Venezuelans are quick to respond that they have much more important things to worry about. In a country where inflation has hit 2,400 percent and people deal with shortages of basic goods like food and medicine, who sits in the White House seems less important.

“We are much more concerned about surviving here than about a presidential election far away,” a woman who asked to be identified as Gabriela Perez told Al Jazeera.

The 42-year-old works as a manicurist in the capital of Caracas and asked not to use her real name.

“We are like zombies walking the streets. The only thing we think about is how to get cooking gas, water and electricity,” she added.

Venezuelans have had to put up with shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods as inflation has continued to soar [Manaure Quintero/Reuters]

US sanctions aimed at the government of Venezuelan socialist President Nicolas Maduro from power have made the oil-rich South American nation’s economy worse, and a continuing political crisis seems to be at a stalemate after opposition politician Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s interim president in January 2019, gaining international recognition but failing to force Maduro from power.

When you ask Venezuelan opposition politicians about the prospect of a victory for US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on November 3, they are divided – and reluctant to go on the record for obvious reasons.

An opposition deputy from the Justice First (Primero Justicia) party close to self-proclaimed interim president Guaido told Al Jazeera he is worried that Biden will want to negotiate with Maduro and that he may ease some of the Trump administration’s hard-line political stances and economic sanctions. He asked not to use his name to discuss politics in the deeply polarised country.

“Trump has been a strong ally. He has shown that he means business and that he will not back down on the demand for the departure of Maduro and his cronies,” that opposition politician said.

Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA – the country’s economic lifeline – has also been hit with US sanctions, adding to the suffering of the Venezuelan people.

Biden has expressed his desire to resume diplomacy with OPEC members Venezuela and Iran, which could eventually lead to the return of their oil exports if certain conditions are met, Reuters News Agency reported.

“We are not seeking to dismantle the sanction policy, but to apply sanctions in an intelligent way, helped by a multilateral effort and with specific goals to be achieved – mainly free, fair and credible elections,” Leopoldo Martinez, strategist for Biden campaign focusing on the Latino vote, told Reuters.

US sanctions have hit the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA hard [File: Isaac Urrutia/Reuters]

But any easing of pressure is unlikely to happen quickly, and Biden seems eager to dispel the impression that he would be soft on Maduro.

On a campaign visit to the Little Havana neighbourhood in Miami, Florida earlier this month, Biden suggested that Trump was “a friend of dictators”.

“Maduro, whom I have met, is a dictator, pure and simple. And he is inflicting incredible suffering on the Venezuelan people in order to stay in power,” Biden said.

Relations between the US and Venezuela remain at a historic low, especially after Maduro was re-elected in a widely contested election in 2018 that the country’s mainstream opposition parties refused to take part in.

After Maduro’s inauguration in January 2019, the White House unleashed a barrage of sanctions and recognised Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, albeit one with no power.

Trump has continued to use Venezuela as an example of the failure of socialism on the campaign trail – and tried to paint Biden as a communist.

Would anything change if Biden wins? Probably not very much, at least during the first year. But the former vice president would likely focus more on the humanitarian dilemma facing Venezuelans at home and abroad. More than 4.5 million Venezuelan have fled their country as migrants and refugees, according to the UN.

Venezuelans carry bags of supplies while crossing the Simon Bolivar International Bridge near the Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia, on Tuesday, March 26, 2019
The economic crisis has spurred millions of Venezuelans to leave the country for Colombia and other parts of the region [File: Federico Rios/Bloomberg]

“We should be leading international efforts to confront the massive humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. The Venezuelan people need our support to recover democracy and rebuild their country,” Biden said earlier this month.

Biden is also far more likely to pursue a multilateral approach to Venezuela’s political crisis that involves US allies, including the European Union. There are members of the Venezuelan opposition who believe it is time to try a new strategy, as the current one has not worked.

As for Maduro, when asked to comment on the US presidential race, he has repeatedly responded that both Trump and Biden represent the same enemy. “Whether Trump or Biden wins, we will confront and defeat him,” Maduro said on September 30, leaving little doubt as to his intentions towards whomever finds himself in the Oval Office in January.

Source: Al Jazeera