Two unnamed senior Biden administration officials told reporters this month that the US plans to ease sanctions that ban American companies from engaging in Venezuela’s oil industry. The Trump administration introduced these sanctions in 2019 and tightened them in 2020 to pressure the military dictatorship in Caracas to release political prisoners and hold free and fair elections.
But the regime has not even agreed to sit down at the proposed negotiating table in Mexico. What looks like a Biden concession for nothing in return has alarmed pro-democracy advocates across the western hemisphere — and in South Florida in particular. They are concerned that the US is tiptoeing towards a rapprochement with dictator Nicolás Maduro that would abandon the cause of Venezuelan freedom. (For the record: Independent oil analysts say Venezuela chevron or not,
is unable to put a dent in lost Russian oil production anytime soon.)
Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, summed up the sentiments of American hawks in a May 17 statement to the Biden administration: “Giving Maduro a handful of undeserved handouts just for his regime to promise to sit down at a negotiating table , a strategy is doomed to fail.”
The potential impact of this backlash on the US midterm elections seems to have caught the government’s attention – and caused it to back down. Juan Gonzalez, senior director of the National Security Council for the western hemisphere, warned in a May 19 Bloomberg interview that any unilateral relief would not improve the lives of ordinary Venezuelans, but would only “line the regime’s pockets.”
On Tuesday, a State Department spokesman told me that the “overall sanctions policy towards Venezuela remains unchanged and we will continue to implement and enforce our Venezuela sanctions.”
However, Reuters reported last week that a US license from Chevron to do business in Venezuela will be renewed and will include “close” approval” for the company to negotiate with the regime “about future activities.” A nephew of Mr. Maduro’s wife is also said to be removed from the US sanctions list.
Both would be US policy changes, however small. Press reports cite unnamed officials who claim they are carrots to bring Mr Maduro to talks on restoring democracy in support of internationally recognized Venezuelan interim President Juan Guaidó. If so, the regime did not bite. Deputy Dictator Delcy Rodríguez
tweeted their hope that the policy change would “pave the way” for all sanctions to be lifted. She did not mention a way to new elections.
When the Menendez camp does not trust the government to work to restore democracy, it is speaking from experience.
Team Biden is staffed with veterans of the Obama administration, which settled in Havana in 2014-15. The 44th US President normalized relations with Cuba and pushed for trade links between the two countries. In 2016, as hundreds of political prisoners were rotting in Cuban dungeons, Mr. Obama traveled to the island and posed with Raúl Castro for photo ops at a baseball game.
Havana has since unleashed a series of unprecedented crackdowns, particularly after last year’s island-wide uprising of July 11. But earlier this month, the administration lifted a Trump cap on U.S. remittances to the island, lifting some travel restrictions and opening the door to U.S. funding for Cuban companies that require regime approval.
These changes will increase dollar flows to the military, an ally of Russia. The moves are difficult to reconcile with Mr Gonzalez’s warning of a unilateral lifting of sanctions on Venezuela.
Another Obama project was Colombia’s surrender – consisting of dripping concessions – to the pro-Cuban rebel group FARC in 2016. The deal has provoked renewed violence in the country.
Opponents of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela tried to defend the rule of law with the help of institutions. In 2002, the military refused orders to use force against unarmed protesters and briefly arrested him in hopes of removing him from power. Connecticut’s then-Sen. Chris Dodd reacted angrily, accuse the Bush administration of being behind the military action without any evidence. He pushed for the reinstatement of the would-be dictator.
It was the classic Dodd, a Sandinista enthusiast during the Cold War and once a frequent visitor to Cuba. Mr. Dodd is now a K Street lobbyist. But the Biden administration recently tapped him as a “special adviser” to the ninth White House America Summit, which will be held June 6-10 in Los Angeles. Obviously, high-profile Castro admirer Bernie Sanders was unavailable.
Reuters quoted “people close to the talks” as reporting Tuesday that “US officials are now waiting for Venezuela to set a date for resuming political dialogue with the government opposition,” which is a “key factor in the manufacture of the Chevron.” license” could be.
The problem is that the regime has a 20-year history of “negotiations.” If Mr. Maduro’s mere agreement to return to the table is enough to get sanctions lifted, the US is deliberately falling into a trap – again.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/venezuela-sets-a-trap-for-biden-nicolas-maduro-oil-chevron-trade-negotiations-quid-pro-quo-11653596637 Venezuela Sanctions Relief Is a Trap for Biden