Under pressure, the US is seeking to re-engage with Venezuela, totally undermining Juan Guaido and the regime-change agenda pursued under Trump in its sudden desperation for oil, reports KEN LIVINGSTONE
DESPERATE times breed desperate measures. In a shock development, parts of the international corporate media are reporting that the US has approached the Venezuelan government with a view to buying oil to shore up its domestic market and avert an energy crisis.
The US is currently experiencing substantial hikes in gasoline and diesel prices following its ban on imports of Russian oil in retaliation for the war in Ukraine.
The bilateral talks are the first to take place since President Nicolas Maduro broke off diplomatic relations between the two countries in January 2019 in protest against President Donald Trump’s recognition of Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s “interim president.”
A high-level US delegation led by top White House Latin America adviser Juan Gonzalez and ambassador James Story met Maduro and his Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez in early March to discuss what a White House spokesperson coyly termed “energy security.”
For its part, the Maduro government noted that it was the US that had terminated business links and co-operation with Venezuela through the imposition of 500 illegal coercive measures — aka “sanctions” — amounting to a blockade of the country.
Crucially, the toughest measures targeted the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and its subsidiary Citgo, to disrupt Venezuela’s reliance on oil exports.
The effect was to cut PDVSA off from international markets and block it from servicing debt. The damage to the oil industry has cost Venezuela $100 billion in revenue over the last five years.
Despite this, Foreign Affairs Minister Felix Plasencia responded that US companies and other international companies would be welcome “if they accept that the only and legitimate government of Venezuela is the one led by President Nicolas Maduro.”
But clearly the Venezuelan government has other goals to pursue as part of any negotiations, including the easing of coercive sanctions and the return of Venezuelan assets abroad seized by the US such as Citgo, worth $8 billion.
Nor is it the US alone that has stolen Venezuelan assets — the Bank of England still has in its vaults over £800 million of Venezuelan gold bars being withheld from the Central Bank of Venezuela.
To show it is taking the US’s approach seriously, soon after the initial meeting the Venezuelan government freed a Venezuelan-American Citgo executive imprisoned on corruption charges and a Cuban-American detained for smuggling a drone into the country from Colombia.
More significantly, Maduro has stated that the dialogue with the Venezuelan opposition, which he had suspended after the US kidnapped and illegally transferred Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab from Cape Verde to the US to stand trial for what the US calls “sanctions-breaking,” would be resumed.
In a bold and inclusive move, he announced that the new round of talks would also involve the extreme right-wing parties that support the self-declared president Guaido alongside the more moderate opposition parties that are already part of the dialogue process.
The US’s move, which completely undermines its strategy to use Guaido as a tool to achieve regime change in Venezuela, has come under immediate — and not unexpected — pressure.
Although the Biden administration insists it still recognises Guaido as “interim president,” he was entirely sidelined by the US initiative, reportedly only being informed of it on the day of the meeting. His angry response has been to call for more sanctions against Venezuela.
Pushback has also come from Colombia, El Salvador and Canada, and in the US from Senator Marco Rubio and the right-wing Cuban-Venezuelan constituency in Florida.
But the political pressures created by rising fuel prices and the apparent unwillingness of other oil producers such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE to assist the US without receiving US assistance with their war in Yemen will be pushing Biden towards some form of accommodation with Venezuela.
The US oil giant Chevron has been lobbying the US administration for a sanctions waiver to permit it to expand its activity in the four joint ventures it has with Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA oil company, to which it has delegated most decision-making over the past few years.
The critical timeframe is the cut-off on April 22 of imports of Russian oil to the US allowed under existing contracts.
The current political situation illustrates clearly that US policy of unilateral and illegal coercive sanctions and regime change is not the way forward.
We must show our solidarity with Venezuela by redoubling our calls for the blockade to be lifted, for Venezuelan assets to be returned to the elected government and for dialogue to take place. And we must demand the British government change its line too — including giving Venezuela back its gold.