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The recent trip by two senior US foreign policy officials to Caracas, Venezuela shows how the geopolitical balance could shift following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
National Security Council Senior Director Juan Gonzalez and Venezuelan Affairs Unit Chief James Story met on Saturday with Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and his wife – the first since diplomatic relations between the two countries broke down. in 2019.
Coverage of the meeting so far has focused on the possibility that the White House will lift some of the sanctions it has imposed in recent years on the Venezuelan oil industry in order to replace imports from Russia, which US President Joe Biden banned earlier in the day.
The context: Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world – and historically much of its crude oil has been exported to US refineries.
Venezuelan oil: Maduro on Monday confirmed Venezuela’s intention to increase crude oil production, a move that comes as Russia’s oil exports plummet due to sanctions tied to its invasion of Ukraine.
“We are ready to resume production. One, two or three million barrels, everything! All in the name of peace! he said.
The US deal might be easier said than done: The country’s oil production is at a almost historically low after years of mismanagement and lack of maintenance of oil installations.
It would take years and billions of dollars of investment to bring Venezuela’s oil exports back to where they were, expert suggests Francois Monaldi, director of the Latin American Energy Program at the Baker Institute in Houston. So if the White House needs a short-term fix to lower gas prices, it can’t come from Venezuela.
Freed U.S. Citizens: However, the Venezuelan deployment of US officials brought immediate results. Venezuela released at least two US citizens on Tuesday night, with speculation it was done as a “sign of goodwill” from Maduro (and as part of possible sanctions relief) which has yet to take place. location.
This undated file photo posted to Twitter on June 18, 2020 by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza shows CITGO oil executives, from left, Jose Angel Pereira, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano , Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, standing in front of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela.
Gustavo Cárdenas is a US citizen detained in Caracas since 2017 and one of six oil executives detained at the US refinery CITGO. Later, Jorge Alberto Fernandez, a Cuban-American dual citizen detained in Venezuela since February 2021, was released from prison. It is not part of the so-called “CITGO 6”.
The trip to Caracas signals the intention that the White House may be ready to change its relationship with Venezuela in the long term. That’s because Caracas got a lot closer to Moscow under Maduro’s rule.
But it’s a high stakes bet: Maduro has already walked away from negotiations — and if it doesn’t work, Biden will likely pay the political price.