For the most up-to-date information on U.S. relations with Venezuela, please visit: U.S. Government Support for the Democratic Aspirations of the Venezuelan People.
More information is available on the Venezuela Country Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.
The United States established diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 1835. The U.S.-Venezuelan bilateral relationship became strained during the presidency of socialist strongman Hugo Chavez (1999-2013). Policies to seize private property and restrict media freedom eroded democratic checks and balances, while cooperation with criminal and terrorist groups as well as facilitation of activities by extra-hemispheric actors such as China, Russia, and Iran increased tensions. The unconstitutional and fraudulent reelection of Nicolas Maduro in May 2018 led the United States and 53 other countries to recognize National Assembly President, Juan Guaido, as the constitutional interim President of Venezuela on January 23, 2019. As Secretary Pompeo said, “The nations of the region, the Lima Group, the Organization of American States are all demanding that we get democracy restored and that we get dignity back to this once-great nation. It’s a country that has the capacity for great wealth, and the United States is prepared to stand with the Venezuelan people to support the interim government to help a free and fair election take place, and then to build back this country.”
Venezuela’s recent presidents, the late Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) and Nicolas Maduro (2013-2019), defined themselves in part through their opposition to the United States, regularly criticizing the U.S. government, its policies, and its relations with Latin America. Former President Maduro’s policies are marked by authoritarianism, intolerance for dissent, and violent and systematic repression of human rights and fundamental freedoms – including the use of torture, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, and the holding of more than 700 prisoners of conscience. The former Maduro regime’s irresponsible state intervention in the economy has facilitated widespread corruption and stoked hyperinflation leading to negative economic growth, as well as food, energy, and water shortages, in a country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves. The United States maintains diplomatic relations with Venezuela through interim President Juan Guaido and the democratically elected National Assembly.
U.S. Assistance to Venezuela
Through its assistance to the legitimate Guaido government and democratic organizations within and outside Venezuela, the United States supports the protection of human rights, the promotion of civil society, the strengthening of democratic institutions, and transparency and accountability in the country. From Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 to 2018, the United States has committed approximately $37 million in bilateral democracy assistance to Venezuela. Assistance to Venezuela is subject to a number of restrictions, including those under Section 706(1) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003 (P.L. 107-228) (the so-called Drug Majors restriction), the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and restrictions contained in the annual appropriations laws. In addition, there are restrictions under Section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), economic sanctions, and dual-use export controls.
Since 2005, the President has determined annually that Venezuela has “failed demonstrably” to adhere to its drug control obligations under international counternarcotics agreements. The President has issued a national interest waiver to enable certain assistance programs vital to the national interests of the United States, such as human rights and civil society programs, to continue.
Pursuant to Section 40A of the AECA, since 2006 the Department of State has determined annually that Venezuela was “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Under this provision, defense articles and services may not be sold or licensed for export to Venezuela during the relevant fiscal year.
U.S. Assistance in Response to the Venezuela Regional Crisis
The United States is answering interim President Guaido’s call to help the people of Venezuela cope with food and medicine shortages, as Venezuelans flee the crisis in their country. Since FY 2017, the United States has provided over $256 million in assistance to support the regional response to the crisis, which includes $213 million in humanitarian assistance and $43 million in economic and development assistance. While the United States’ ability to provide humanitarian aid inside Venezuela has been restricted by the former Maduro regime’s refusal to allow unfettered international assistance to reach people in need, the United States continues to pursue ways to support the people inside Venezuela during this humanitarian crisis.
Bilateral Economic Relations
The United States has historically been Venezuela’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade in goods between both countries reached $19 billion in 2018. U.S. goods exports to Venezuela totaled $6 billion in 2018. U.S. imports from Venezuela totaled $13 billion. U.S. exports to Venezuela have included petroleum and refined petroleum products, machinery, organic chemicals, and agricultural products. Crude oil dominated U.S. imports from Venezuela, which was one of the top five suppliers of foreign oil to the United States. Previously, U.S. foreign direct investment in Venezuela was concentrated largely in the petroleum sector.
Hyperinflation, state intervention in the economy including expropriations, macroeconomic distortions, physical insecurity, corruption, violations of labor rights, and a volatile regulatory framework make Venezuela an extremely challenging climate for U.S. and multinational companies. A complex foreign exchange system, capital controls, and the lack of dollars have prevented firms from repatriating their earnings out of Venezuela and importing industrial inputs and finished goods into Venezuela. Lack of access to dollars, price controls, and rigid labor regulations have compelled many U.S. and multinational firms to reduce or shut down their Venezuelan operations.
U.S. Pressure on the Maduro Regime
Since 2017, the United States has made over 150 Venezuelan-related designations, pursuant to various Executive Orders (E.O.) under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. Designations include former President Maduro and those responsible for repression, corruption, and undermining democracy under E.O. 13692 (Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela) issued by the President in March 2015 and E.O. 13850 (Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela) issued by the President in November 2018, each as amended. Since 2017, the Department of Treasury has designated two individuals for involvement in narcotrafficking under the Kingpin Act, including former Vice President Tareck El Aissami.
On August 24, 2017, the United States announced sanctions under E.O. 13808 that, among other things, prohibit U.S. persons from dealings in certain new debt and equity of the Government of Venezuela and PDVSA, the state oil company. These sanctions also prohibit dealings in certain existing bonds issued by the Government of Venezuela, as well as dividend payments to the Government of Venezuela. These sanctions deny the Maduro regime a critical source of financing with which it maintains its rule, restrict the Venezuelan government from using the U.S. system to restructure existing debts, and protect the U.S. financial system from complicity in Venezuela’s corruption and in the impoverishment of the Venezuelan people.
In February and March 2018, the United States implemented targeted visa restrictions on members of the illegitimate parallel legislature known as the National Constituent Assembly and other individuals for undermining democracy in Venezuela.
On March 19, 2018, the President issued E.O. 13827, which expanded Venezuela related sanctions to prohibit dealings in certain digital currency, digital coin, or digital token. On May 21, 2018, the United States further expanded its financial sector sanctions, through E.O. 13827, to prohibit dealings in any debt owed to the Government of Venezuela.
On November 1, 2018, the President issued E.O. 13850, which authorizes sanctions targeting persons operating in Venezuela’s gold sector or in any other sector of the Venezuelan economy as determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State.
On January 28, 2019, the Treasury Department, following from consultation with the Department of State, determined that persons operating in Venezuela’s oil sector may be subject to sanctions pursuant to E.O. 13850, as amended. On January 28, Treasury designated PDVSA for operating within this sector.
On January 25, 2019, the President issued E.O. 13857 in light of the United States’ recognition of interim President Juan Guaido. E.O. 13857 amended the definition of “Government of Venezuela” in the above-mentioned E.O.s to ensure that the Maduro regime remains the focus of our sanctions measures.
On March 22, 2019, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Banco de Desarrollo Economico y Social de Venezuela, or BANDES, pursuant to E.O. 13850, as amended, for operating in the financial sector of the Venezuelan economy, as well as four additional financial institutions that BANDES owns or controls. These actions followed a determination by Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin, in consultation with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, that persons operating in Venezuela’s financial sector may be subject to sanctions [pursuant to E.O. 13850, as amended].
On April 17, 2019 the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Banco Central de Venezuela, or the Central Bank of Venezuela, pursuant to E.O. 13850, as amended, for operating in the financial sector of the Venezuelan economy.
On May 9, 2019, Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin, in consultation with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and pursuant to E.O. 13850, as amended, determined that persons operating in the defense and security sector of the Venezuelan economy may be subject to sanctions.
Venezuela’s Membership in International Organizations
Venezuela and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Organization of American States, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Monetary Fund, Interpol, United Nations Human Rights Council, World Bank, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Venezuela is a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and PetroCaribe. Venezuela is also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the G-15, the G-24, and the G-77. On August 5, 2017 Venezuela was indefinitely suspended from Southern Common Market (Mercosur).
With the recognition of Juan Guaido as interim President by 54 countries, some of these memberships have come under debate.
On April 26, 2017, Venezuela announced it would withdraw from the Organization of American States (OAS), a process that requires two years. This decision was reversed by interim President Guaido and the National Assembly. On January 10, 2019, the OAS Permanent Council voted not to recognize the second term of former President Nicolas Maduro and on April 9 the OAS Permanent Council approved a resolution to accept Guaido’s nominee Gustavo Tarre as Venezuela’s representative to the Permanent Council on April 9.
On March 15, 2019, the IDB approved a resolution recognizing Guaido’s representative, Ricardo Hausmann.
On March 12, the United States suspended embassy operations in Caracas. The United States maintains formal diplomatic relations with Venezuela and the Guaido government through its accredited Ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio.
Venezuela maintains an embassy in the United States at 1099 30th St. NW, Washington, DC 20007; tel. (202) 342-2214.
More information about Venezuela is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:
U.S. Government Support for the Democratic Aspirations of the Venezuelan People
CIA World Factbook Venezuela Page
USAID Venezuela Page
History of U.S. Relations With Venezuela
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Countries Page
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Library of Congress Country Studies
U.S. Energy Information Administration