THREE years ago, it would be unimaginable that Washington would be the one turning to Venezuela to solve its issues.
But a rampant invasion from Vladimir Putin – accentuating an already untenable energy crisis – means US officials are scrambling to strike a deal with the Venezuelan leader they have spent years trying to oust.
Oil prices have skyrocketed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this month, forcing the White House to make concessions to Nicolas Maduro.
Talks seem to have progressed well, despite official denials of any deal being struck between the two nations. Venezuela freed two American prisoners shortly after the first round of talks.
Experts have suggested that Washington will pay a relatively small price for their U-turn, despite the possible ideological embarrassment.
Professor Daniel Hellinger of Webster University told Redaction Report: “This has less to do with curbing Russian influence than in dealing with natural gas and oil. Venezuelan oil could help alleviate shortages in the US.
“Natural gas could be very important for Europe.
“Maduro seems to have developed a more pragmatic attitude about economic issues, and I think he will be interested.”
For Venezuela, which has struggled under suffocating US sanctions for years, the talks are a welcome relief, even if it is helping out an adversary.
Maduro backed the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this month, suggesting Putin was “protecting the civilian population” in East Ukraine and that a “neutral” buffer country was the best outcome.
Sanctions relief will take pressure off the ailing economy in Venezuela, however, and rising energy prices will only provide a boost to the economy.
Meanwhile, Washington’s price might be one that isn’t too difficult to swallow for the Biden administration, especially when it comes with the reward of steady oil supplies.
While the recognition of Maduro as the country’s legitimate president may be a step too far for the White House, Professor Hellinger suggested that they could be coaxed into abandoning Juan Guaido totally.
“Maduro will likely turn the bargaining over to PDVSA, and there will be some difficult issues to navigate about seized assets in the US,” he said.
“More than Russia, Maduro’s political price is likely to be Washington abandoning Guaido.
“Given Guaido’s collapse into almost a non-factor politically inside Venezuela, that might turn out to be an easy concession for the US, especially if it’s coupled with guarantees of a competitive presidential election in 2024.”
It’s also worth remembering that the US was Venezuela’s biggest oil customer until sanctions got slapped on the South American nation in 2019. This seemingly odd rekindling between the two nations – reminiscent of Obama’s negotiations with Cuba during his tenure – could be temporary, but will provide much needed relief for the Venezuelan economy.
Biden’s own political adversaries have already come out against the deal, with the likes of Marco Rubio urging the President to stimulate domestic oil production instead.
Daniel Hellinger is Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Webster University and author of Comparative Politics of Latin America (3rd edition, Routledge)
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