In an unexpected situation that surprised everyone in Venezuela and Florida, the Biden administration decided to take a u-turn in the White House’s maximum pressure policy against the socialist tyranny of Nicolas Maduro.
While the world’s eyes watched the violent tragedy taking place in Ukraine, senior U.S. officials arrived in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, to meet with the Maduro regime. The reasons behind the visit were simple: to liberate nine Americans detained in the country, break the Kremlin-Miraflores alliance and restore the oil commerce with Venezuela so the U.S. can replace the oil it stopped buying from Russia.
In exchange the U.S. would ease the sanctions imposed by the former Trump administration against the Venezuelan oil industry. A situation that would legitimize Maduro after being an international pariah for years.
Basically, the Biden administration is looking for a trifecta with a sweet bonus: the possibility that gas prices won’t go up even more. But, is this really possible? The truth is that the White House could be entering into a significant fiasco that could have some unpleasant consequences for Democrats in the midterm elections, in addition to destroying Venezuela’s hopes for a return to freedom and democracy.
It is unlikely that Maduro break ties with Putin.
Believe it or not, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin could have some reasons to feel happy with Maduro’s negotiations with the U.S. After all, Caracas will get more dollars in the short term if everything moves forward, meaning that the Venezuelan regime could finally start paying the massive amount of money that it owes Moscow.
On the other hand, establishing any type of alliance with the U.S. doesn’t automatically move you out of Russia’s sphere of influence — just look at the Nicaraguan regime. However, the depth of the Caracas-Moscow alliance makes it quite unlikely that Maduro will break ties with the Kremlin. We’re talking about billions of dollars in weapons, intelligence support, political consulting and a sophisticated mechanism created by Moscow to allow Venezuela’s oil industry to thwart the sanctions and keep selling oil to different countries.
Moreover, the Kremlin has gathered plenty of “Kompromat” on some of the most important members of the Venezuelan regime, including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, who is known for being a close friend of his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu. In addition, Russia currently has control of billions of dollars that top Venezuelan officials and Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA saved in Gazprombank, which decided to freeze this money in 2019 to avoid getting sanctioned by the Trump administration.
The Venezuelan oil industry is in shambles.
In 2021, Russia exported 670,000 oil barrels to the U.S. In 2018, which was the last year before the Maduro regime suffered the oil sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Venezuela managed to export only 586,000. Currently, the total amount of oil barrels that the South American nation produces is about 700,000, but Caracas takes 150,000 for internal use and sends nearly 60,000 to Cuba.
This way, even in the best-case scenario, the Venezuelan regime won’t be able to fully replace the amount of oil that the U.S. gets from Russia. Even worse, even if the Biden administration relaxes oil sanction on Venezuela, it would do nothing to alleviate the current oil crisis.
According to Francisco Monaldi, Fellow and Director of the Latin American Energy Program at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, if the sanctions imposed against the Kremlin impact Russian oil exports for a long period, the Venezuelan regime could only reach two percent of the world’s supply in no less than five years. To make this happen, the Biden administration would have to cancel all sanctions, while the Venezuelan oil industry would need a significant investment of $12 billion over a seven-year period.
Turning Venezuelans into the new Cubans.
In short, we’re talking about a deal that could easily go wrong, and the effect that the Venezuelan oil could have on gas prices will be minimal. Also, negotiating with a socialist tyrant like Maduro won’t necessarily move him away from Russia or China, so the U.S. might end up financing a band of human rights violators just to get an insignificant amount of oil.
A negotiated transition probably won’t solve the Venezuelan situation. Like it happened in Nicaragua in the early 1990s, this would only change the tyrant but not the political system. However, guaranteeing free and fair elections in the shortest time possible is a mandatory demand that U.S. officials must include at the negotiating table. Otherwise, President Joe Biden would be doing something worse than what former President Barack Obama did with Cuba.
He would be stabilizing the worst tyranny in Latin America’s modern history — the socialist dystopia that is responsible for the second-largest migrant crisis in the world and has been formally accused by the U.S. State Department of narcoterrorism. It also hosts and protects terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and ELN and is being investigated by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
In the 2020 presidential election, a majority of Venezuelans in the U.S. voted for then-president Donald Trump. However, with Biden’s latest actions with Maduro, a Democratic administration could be about to turn the Venezuelan community in the U.S. into a potential Republican voter base.
That’s what happened with Cubans after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. But in this case, it would come after condemning a nation’s future in the name of a deal that looks flawed from every angle.
Luis Orozco is a Venezuelan journalist and political analyst.