U.S. Relations With Venezuela

Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Fact Sheet
August 31, 2016

More information about Venezuela is available on the Venezuela 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 has been tense in recent years.

Venezuela’s recent presidents, the late Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) and Nicolas Maduro (2013-present), have 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. President Maduro has also continued his predecessor’s policies, notably what the Venezuelan government refers to as "21st Century Socialism," which is characterized by an outsized role for the executive, extensive state intervention in the economy, and efforts to expand Venezuelan economic and political influence among nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. The United States and Venezuela maintain diplomatic relations, with embassies each headed by a chargé d’affaires.

U.S. Assistance to Venezuela 

U.S. assistance to Venezuela supports the defense of human rights, the promotion of civil society, and the strengthening of democratic institutions. Venezuela is currently subject to certain restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance.

Since 2005, the President has determined annually that Venezuela has “failed demonstrably” to adhere to its obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements and to take certain counter-narcotics measures. The President has waived these restrictions with respect to programs that are vital to the national interests of the United States, such as human rights and civil society programs.

Pursuant to section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act, the Department of State since 2006 has annually determined 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.

Bilateral Economic Relations

The United States is Venezuela's largest trading partner. Bilateral trade in goods between both countries reached $23.9 billion in 2015. U.S. goods exports to Venezuela totaled $8.3 billion in 2015, down 25 percent from 2014.  U.S. imports from Venezuela totaled $ 15.6 billion, down 48 percent from 2014, due principally to the fall in oil prices.  U.S. exports to Venezuela include petroleum and refined petroleum products, machinery, organic chemicals, agricultural products, autos and auto parts. Crude oil dominates U.S. imports from Venezuela, which is one of the top five suppliers of foreign oil to the United States. About 500 U.S. companies are represented in Venezuela. U.S. foreign direct investment in Venezuela is concentrated largely in the petroleum and manufacturing sectors.

Political tensions, state intervention in the economy, including expropriations, macroeconomic distortions, physical insecurity, corruption, and a volatile regulatory framework make Venezuela a challenging climate for U.S. and multinational companies. A complex foreign exchange regime and restricted access to dollars have prevented firms from repatriating their earnings out of Venezuela and importing industrial inputs and finished goods into Venezuela. Extremely limited 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.

In 2011, the Secretary of State imposed sanctions under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 (ISA) on Venezuela's state oil company (PDVSA) for delivering at least three cargoes of reformate, a blending component for gasoline, to Iran between December 2010 and March 2011. The sanctions prohibited PDVSA from competing for U.S. Government contracts, securing financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and obtaining export licenses.  The ISA sanctions on PDVSA were lifted as a part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on January 16, 2016. We refer you to guidance and frequently asked questions on the Department of Treasury’s website. On the site you will find many resources, including a link to “Frequently Asked Questions Relating to the Lifting of Certain U.S. Sanctions Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Implementation Day.”  As a reference, here is the updated federal register notice: https://federalregister.gov/a/2016-01404.

In 2013, the Department of State announced the re-imposition of nonproliferation sanctions on the Venezuelan Military Industry Company (CAVIM) and other foreign entities and individuals under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKNSA).  On March 9, 2015, the President announced a new Executive Order (E.O.) “Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela.” The targeted sanctions in the E.O. implement and expand upon the requirements of the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2014. This E.O. targets persons involved in or responsible for the erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations/abuses in response to antigovernment protests, arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, and significant public corruption by senior government officials in Venezuela. The E.O. does not target the people or economy of Venezuela. This E.O. was renewed in March 2016. 

Individuals and entities designated for the imposition of sanctions pursuant to the E.O. have their U.S. property and interests in U.S. property blocked, and U.S. persons wherever located are prohibited from engaging in any transactions or dealings with such individuals or entities, including their property and interests in property. Except as authorized by the Secretary of State, designated individuals will not be permitted to travel to the United States.

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, and World Trade Organization. On January 24, 2012, Venezuela withdrew from the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States, which creates the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). On September 10, 2013, Venezuela formally withdrew from the American Convention on Human Rights. Venezuela started a two-year term in the United Nations Security Council on January 1, 2015.

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 Southern Common Market (Mercosur), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the G-15, the G-24, and the G-77.

Bilateral Representation

There currently is no U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela; the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires en pied is Lee McClenny.

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:

CIA World Factbook Venezuela Page
U.S. Embassy: Venezuela
USAID Venezuela Page
History of U.S. Relations With Venezuela
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Investment Climate Statements
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Countries Page
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Library of Congress Country Studies
Travel and Business Information
U.S. Energy Information Agency
Country Reports on Terrorism