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.
Venezuela effectively achieved its independence from Spain by 1819 as part of the Republic of Colombia, and the United States recognized the Colombian federation in 1822. After Venezuela separated from Colombia in 1830, the United States recognized and established diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 1835.
The United States recognizes Interim President Juan Guaido and considers the 2015 democratically-elected Venezuelan National Assembly, which he currently leads, to be the only legitimate federal institution, according to the Venezuelan Constitution. More than 60 countries issued or joined public statements, including the European Union, Organization of American States, Lima Group, and International Contact Group, condemning the fraudulent December 2020 parliamentary elections organized by the illegitimate Nicolas Maduro regime.
The United States and the interim government led by Interim President Guaido collaborate closely to achieve the goal of a peaceful restoration of democracy via free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections. The United States works with Interim President Juan Guaido and his team on a number of areas of mutual concern, including migration issues, public health, security, anti-narcotrafficking initiatives, and reestablishment of the rule of law. Venezuela’s previous presidents, the late Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) and Nicolas Maduro (2013-2019), defined themselves in large part through their opposition to the United States, regularly criticizing and sowing disinformation about the U.S. government, its policies, and its relations with Latin America. Maduro, who was not reelected via free and fair elections, clings to power through the subversion of democratic institutions, manipulation of elections, and force. His 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 300 prisoners of conscience. The Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Maduro in 2017, and in 2020 the Department of Justice charged him with offenses related to narco-terrorism and drug trafficking. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) posted a $15-million reward for information to bring him to justice. The illegitimate Maduro regime has facilitated widespread corruption and stoked hyperinflation leading to negative economic growth, a humanitarian crisis, and widespread difficulty accessing basic goods and services including food, energy, and water shortages, in a country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
U.S. Development Assistance to Venezuela
Through its development assistance to the legitimate Guaido Interim 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. Since the crisis began, the United States has provided $272 million in economic, development, and health assistance to support the response to the crisis inside Venezuela and the region. U.S. assistance is provided through international organizations and their partners and not directly to the Interim Government or its representatives.
Assistance to the illegitimate Maduro regime 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.
Since 2005, the President has determined annually that Venezuela, and more recently the illegitimate Maduro regime, has “failed demonstrably” to adhere to its drug control obligations under international counternarcotics agreements. The illegitimate Maduro regime also does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making any efforts to do so, according to the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons report. 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. Humanitarian Assistance in Response to the Venezuela Regional Crisis
The United States is providing humanitarian assistance to help people within Venezuela, as well as Venezuelan migrants and refugees and their host communities across the region, who are struggling to access sufficient food, water, healthcare, and other critical goods and services. Since FY 2017, the United States has provided more than $1.4 billion in humanitarian assistance along with $272 million in economic, development, and health assistance to support the response to the crisis inside Venezuela and throughout the region. The United States is the single largest donor of humanitarian aid to people affected by this crisis and supports 17 countries hosting Venezuelan migrants and refugees. U.S. humanitarian assistance helps to meet critical life-saving needs, including for food and nutrition; water, sanitation, and hygiene; healthcare; protection; and other goods and services. Our development assistance is helping countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean meet longer term needs, such as education deficits, caused by the man-made regional crisis.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Before the United States suspended diplomatic operations in Venezuela, the United States was Venezuela’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade in goods between both countries reached $1.3 billion in 2020, down from $3.2 billion in 2019. U.S. goods exports to Venezuela totaled $1.13 billion in 2020, down from $1.3 billion in 2019. U.S. imports from Venezuela totaled $167 million in 2020, down from $1.9 billion in 2019. U.S. exports to Venezuela have historically 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. The United States has not imported crude oil from Venezuela since the imposition of sectoral sanctions in early 2019.Previously, U.S. foreign direct investment in Venezuela was concentrated largely in the petroleum sector, but sanctions, coupled with the poor business environment, have significantly reduced these investments.
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. Domestic capital and international regulatory controls , make it challenging to repatriate earnings out of and import 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.
Since 2017, the United States has made over 350 Venezuelan-related designations, pursuant to various Executive Orders (E.O.), the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. Designations include former President Maduro and those involved in public corruption and undermining democracy under E.O. 13692 (Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela) and E.O. 13850 (Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela) . In 2017, the Department of the Treasury has designated two individuals for involvement in narcotrafficking under the Kingpin Act, including former Vice President (and nominal Minister of Oil) Tareck El Aissami.
Additionally, E.O. 13850, in conjunction with determinations made by the Secretary of the Treasury, authorizes sanctions against persons determined to be operating in the gold, oil, financial, and defense and security sectors of the Venezuelan economy. and was the basis for the January 2019 designation of Venezuelan national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA). The Central Bank of Venezuela is also designated under E.O. 13850.
On August 5, 2019, the President signed E.O. 13884 which blocks all property and interests in property of the Government of Venezuela that are in the United States or that are within the possession or control of any United States person. In conjunction with E.O. 13884, Treasury also issued General License 31, which authorizes, among other things, transactions with Guaido and the National Assembly, activities for the official business of certain international organizations, and activities NGOs undertake to support humanitarian projects to meet basic human needs in Venezuela. Additionally, Treasury maintains broad exemptions for transactions relating to humanitarian goods and General License 39 specifically addresses activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For additional information about the Venezuela sanctions program, please visit the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) website.
On March 26, 2020, the Department of Justice charged former President Maduro and 14 other current and former Venezuelan officials, including his vice president for the economy, his Minister of Defense, and the Chief Supreme Court Justice with offenses related to narco-terrorism, corruption, and drug trafficking, and other criminal charges.
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, World Bank, 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 G-15, the G-24, and the G-77. On August 5, 2017, Venezuela was indefinitely suspended from the Southern Common Market (Mercosur).
On April 26, 2017, Maduro announced Venezuela 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, 2019 the OAS Permanent Council approved a resolution to accept Interim President Guaido’s nominee Gustavo Tarre as Venezuela’s representative to the Permanent Council on April 9.
The Interim Guaido government is also an active member of the Lima Group, an important group of likeminded nations founded in 2017 to facilitate regional coordination in the pursuit of a democratic resolution to the Venezuela crisis.
On March 15, 2019, the IDB approved a resolution recognizing Guaido’s representative, Ricardo Hausmann. The current representative is Alejandro Plaz.
On March 12, 2019, the United States suspended embassy operations in Caracas. The United States maintains formal diplomatic relations with Venezuela and the Guaido interim government through its accredited Ambassador to the United States. On November 18, 2020, the U.S. Senate confirmed James Story as the first ambassador for Venezuela in a decade.
On August 28, 2019, the Department of State announced the opening of the Venezuela Affairs Unit (VAU). The VAU is the interim diplomatic office of the U.S. Government to Venezuela, located at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. It continues the U.S. mission to the legitimate Government of Venezuela and to the Venezuelan people.
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