Biden Drops Sanctions on Latin American Dictatorships

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel / Getty Images
May 17, 2022

The Biden administration this week lifted sanctions on two of Latin America's most authoritarian regimes, actions that prompted criticism from a top Democratic senator.

The administration on Tuesday eased sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro, the dictator of Venezuela. The White House in recent weeks has moved to forge closer ties with Venezuela in an attempt to drive a wedge between the country and Russia as well as to bring more oil into the market, but there is little evidence Venezuela plans on cutting ties with Russia, the Miami Herald reported.

Biden also lifted some of the Trump administration's sanctions on Cuba by expanding flights to the country, restarting a program that unites Cuban families living in the United States, and easing restrictions on money transfers to family members in Cuba, the New York Times reported.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), a son of Cuban immigrants, slammed the Biden administration's decision on Cuba as enriching the regime in Havana while putting no pressure on it to become more democratic.

"Today's announcement risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people, at the wrong time, and for all the wrong reasons," Menendez told the Times.

The senator took particular issue with the easing of travel restrictions to Cuba, a move he said will be ineffective in changing Cuba's governance.

"Those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial," Menendez said. "For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed. For years, the United States foolishly eased travel restrictions, arguing millions of American dollars would bring about freedom, and nothing changed."

President Joe Biden campaigned on a pledge to pursue closer ties with Cuba, as former president Barack Obama did. Biden's plans were put on hold last summer when the Cuban regime brutally cracked down on protests. The president issued sanctions on Cuban police officials in response, actions the Times described as "largely symbolic."

Former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in March slammed the administration's efforts to ease sanctions on Venezuela to lower oil prices.

"The idea that Biden would lift sanctions on Venezuela to punish Russia is a joke," Haley said. "Going from one tyrant to another won't solve our issues—supporting and ramping up American energy production will. Biden must stop buying Russian oil, appeasing dictators, and funding these rogue regimes."