The Biden administration will ease sanctions on Venezuela and its strongman President Nicolás Maduro, senior admin officials have told several media outlets, in yet another reversal of a key Trump policy. The Miami Herald is reporting that in exchange for a softening of sanctions, which have included blocking the government’s access to US debt and equity markets – and have particularly targeted state-run oil company PDVSA in an oil embargo – Caracas has committed to a formal dialogue with the Venezuelan opposition in Mexico City.
During the middle of Trump’s term in office, especially by 2019, it was widely reported and understood that the US had an unofficial policy of aiming at regime change in the socialist Latin American country. It’s been no less than three years since the US ceased formal diplomatic relations with Caracas.
Significantly prior to Biden taking office, opposition leader Juan Guaidó was recognized by Washington and a handful of allies as ‘interim president’. This status has ironically continued even as Guaidó’s visibility and influence with the media has waned. Once a ‘superstar’ in the West, he’s become increasingly irrelevant as as a real contender for power in Caracas.
A Biden admin official sought to stress in Tuesday statements that this doesn’t mean Guaidó has been ditched in favor of normalizing Maduro. “It is very important to stress that this was done in coordination with the interim president, Juan Guaidó, to move the talks forward,” the official said.
But this of course has less to do with Maduro changing any domestic policies or also its posture vis-a-vis Washington, and much more to do with the scramble to free up alternative supplies of oil at a moment the White House is urging Europe to block Russian oil imports as a means of inflicting maximum punishment on Moscow for its war in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the ironies haven’t been lost on many…
Though the State Department denies it, the U.S. may be seeking a deal with Venezuela’s dictator to increase the world’s oil supply, writes @WSJ If this is true, Biden would be leaving a dictator for another dictator. Unbelievable https://t.co/N3NcUBXTty
— Luis Carlos Vélez 🌎 (@lcvelez) May 17, 2022
The other irony is that Maduro has only continued seeking deeper ties with Russia, and the Biden admin is likely content to look the other way:
News of sanctions relief comes just three weeks before the United States hosts the Summit of the Americas for the first time since the inaugural summit in 1994. Several leaders in the region are encouraging the administration to invite a representative from the Maduro government to participate.
Meanwhile, there are few indications that Caracas will turn away from Russia as it engages with the United States. Maduro announced on Monday that his ambassador to Moscow, Carlos Faría, would become Venezuela’s new foreign minister.
In March, the White House first dispatched a team to Caracas where they engaged in “cordial” dialogue with Maduro officials. “We have agreed to work on an agenda going forward, issues of interest,” Maduro said at the time. “It seemed to me very important to be able, face to face, discuss issues of maximum interest to Venezuela and the world. And I ratify, as I said to the delegation, all our will to advance in an agenda of well-being and peace through diplomacy, respect and the highest hope for a better world.”
Additionally NBC noted at the time that the socialist ‘anti-imperialist’ strongman “seemed to indicate he was willing to accede to U.S. demands that he resume negotiations with his opponents as a first building block for any relief from U.S. sanctions that have been punishing the OPEC nation for years.”
All of this primes the administration for a political fight with GOP Venezuela hawks in Congress. Over the last two months Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Florida’s Marco Rubio have blasted any level of rapprochement with Maduro.
Biden continues his effort to appease anti-American communist dictators
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 17, 2022
“If the reports are true that the Biden administration is brokering the purchase of Venezuelan oil, I fear that it risks perpetuating a humanitarian crisis that has destabilized Latin America and the Caribbean for an entire generation,” Menendez said in a March statement. “… As such, I would strongly oppose any action that fills the pockets of regime oligarchs with oil profits while Maduro continues to deprive Venezuelans of basic human rights, freedoms, and even food.”