In An Apparent Attempt To Further Isolate Russia, Us Officials Are Flying To Venezuela For Discussions

Senior US officials have traveled to Venezuela for unusual discussions with President Nicolás Maduro’s government, ostensibly in an attempt to wean Venezuela away from its Russian backing following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. On Saturday, White House and State Department officials met with Maduro representatives in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, in what was the first such meeting in years.

The New York Times said that the Biden administration was motivated in part by concerns that Russia’s Latin American allies, which include authoritarian governments in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, may become “security threats” if the geopolitical conflict with Putin progressed. Others predicted that if the US imposed sanctions on Russia as a result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Venezuelan oil could be used to replace Russian supplies. Despite US sanctions imposed during the 2019 attempt to overthrow Maduro, Venezuela boasts the world’s greatest oil reserves, and its output is currently expanding.

According to Reuters, no deal was reached during Saturday’s negotiations. However, other experts believe the meeting could herald a substantial shift in US policy toward Venezuela, which has been wracked by humanitarian and political crises since Maduro seized control in 2013. The US’s precise intentions, according to Christopher Sabatini, a senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, are unknown, but hurting Russian interests and multibillion-dollar investments in Venezuela are certainly high on the list.

“Clearly, they want to really try to blunt Russia’s influence in the hemisphere. They don’t want any projections of power,” Sabatini said, adding: “This is also an opportunity to get the US private sector back into Venezuela and squeeze out the Russians.” In 2019, the United States severed diplomatic ties with Maduro after Donald Trump’s administration backed an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to depose him by recognizing a teenage opposition figure, Juan Guaidó, as president and inciting a military insurrection.

Maduro has clung to power in part because of China, Iran, and Russia’s sustained economic backing. Although authorities claim there will be no abrupt relaxation of sanctions aimed to help restore Venezuelan democracy, there have been rising signals in recent months that the US is altering tactics on Venezuela under Biden. Juan Gonzalez, Biden’s senior Latin America adviser, said the US would continue to recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s lawful leader in an appearance with the Americas Quarterly podcast last week. Gonzalez, on the other hand, made it clear that the new administration had abandoned the Trump administration’s attempt to destabilize Maduro.

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“Whereas the previous administration’s theory of change was based on regime collapse, ours is more on the need to recognize that only a negotiation will lead to concrete and sustainable change in Venezuela towards democratic order,” Gonzalez said.

Even powerful conservative voices who formerly advocated for Maduro’s demise are now shifting their minds. On Sunday, former Fox Business host Trish Regan tweeted, “We need to reassess everything right now –including not allowing Russia to snuggle up to countries near us!”

Regan added: “It’s not just US officials meeting in Venezuela right now – it’s also key executives from MAJOR US oil companies, including Chevron. This is real, folks. If agreements are reached, we will replace Putin’s oil with massive reserves from the Orinoco region of Venezuela.”

Human rights and democracy, Sabatini added, “may get crushed in the name of realpolitik” as part of the US push to rebuild relations with Maduro’s Venezuela. “That would be tragic given the situation in Venezuela … So it’s going to be a delicate diplomatic balance.”

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