by Gustavo A. Maranges, published on Resumen English, March 10, 2022
On Monday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced to the world a meeting held over the weekend with a small negotiating team sent by the White House According to official sources from both countries, the main topics of the mini-summit were energy and prisoners. It is the first high-level exchange in 20 years, which generates a lot of curiosity about the intentions behind such an abrupt turn in Washington’s policy towards Venezuela.
An objective reading of these events and approaching real objectives of both sides have to be reviewed in the eyes of the current international context marked by the crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Since the White House, backed by European Union and NATO, encouraged the outbreak of this conflict, it is hard to believe that they did not correctly calculate the possible long and short term consequences of their maneuvering.
Market instability, rising food, fuel, and freight prices have been some of the immediate effects of the conflict, which has had a considerable impact on the pockets of worldwide ordinary citizens, especially in the countries involved. On top of this, the effects of over two years of the pandemic have aggravated the inflationary process of the world economy, which has been one of the main domestic problems faced by the Biden administration.
The conflict in Ukraine has impacted oil prices by 20%, which is one of the reasons leading to the soaring gasoline prices in the US. In addition, the US ban on Russian oil and gas imports has set off alarms about a near-term fuel supply shortfall, something that would underpin rising prices which Americans are already suffering from.
Biden has been forced to look for urgent alternatives to this deficit and has turned to Caracas as an emergency solution to a crisis caused in a big part by them. Yes, Maduro’s Venezuela, which US politicians have tried to drown with the most unjust and illegal sanctions, comes to be now a lifeline of the Biden administration.
Despite the US sanctions things have improved in Venezuela and they have managed to recover some of its oil production, and Biden seems willing to ease the sanctions to avoid an increase in his unpopularity, especially when the mid-term elections are just around the corner.
Many people will think that the US establishment has miscalculated, but I am not so sure. It is about bets, like gambling. Biden’s dangerous gamble is about suffocating Russia, a major “enemy” in the international system, even if it means lifting the boot from the neck of the Venezuelan people. Likewise, we must not forget the strategic relationship between Caracas and Moscow, which Maduro has not hesitated to defend at any time. Therefore, easing sanctions on Venezuela comes with the economic strangulation of one of its most important allies. That is Biden’s way to balance the cost of his move.
Beyond the twisted strategies of Washington politicians, who only watch over economic, political, and electoral interests, recent events confirm the hypocrisy prevailing in these spheres. For years, both Biden and Trump have been fostering economic boycotts and a trade and financial blockade against Venezuela, arguing that these are “measures to force the Maduro dictatorship” to respect Venezuelans’ political and human rights.
However, given the current economic pressure on Biden, their long-standing farce crumbles. It also shows that every accusation against Venezuela was nothing more than inventions to justify economic aggression, whose only purpose was to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela and replace it with a Washington loyalist subject like their pawn Juan Guaido. Nothing new in the White House’s cookbook!
Another of the topics from last weekend’s negotiation was the release of nine American citizens who serve sentences in Venezuela for various reasons. Among them are six executives of Citgo, the US subsidiary of the state-owned oil company PDVSA, former Marine Matthew Heath accused of espionage, and two former military personnel involved in a failed mercenary landing aimed at fostering armed violence against the government.
As part of the negotiations, two out of nine prisoners were just released, and Maduro agreed to resume the dialogue in Mexico with the opposition. The negotiations with these sectors were interrupted in October last year, since Alex Saab was extradited to the United States due to false money laundering charges against him. Saab was part of the government’s negotiating team with the opposition. Agreeing to negotiate with the fractured opposition costs the Maduro government little because they know full well that any substantial issues will be negotiated directly with Washington.
This last detail proves again that US foreign policy is nothing but Machiavellian. The Biden administration had conditioned the lifting of some sanctions to the progress of these negotiations with the opposition. After knowing about the progress registered in three rounds, Washington was not eager to loosen its economic war and it rather chose to sabotage the negotiations by imprisoning Saab in full awareness of his role within the negotiating team. They did it years ago in the Dominican Republic by calling the chief negotiator of the opposition and ordering him not to sign the agreement with Maduro and they did it again in Mexico.
Contrary to what many think, the resumption of negotiations is a very positive step for Venezuela and Maduro’s government, which is really interested in an understanding that may lead to greater political and economic stability within the country. It remains to be seen what the White House’s secret card will be this time or if the fear of an ongoing energy crisis will be enough to dissuade them in their attempts to destabilize Venezuela.
The United States has engaged in a tactical war against Russia, and once again, Latin America is part of the scenario despite the distance. Biden’s real intentions remain an enigma, but his strategy to carry them out is either millimetrically calculated or very risky. Thinking that Caracas will exchange its alliance with Russia for a share of the US energy market is a dubious presumption, or it comes from a person who does not know the foreign policy of this Latin American country.
On the other hand, Venezuela has much to gain. The mere fact of the visit has already unveiled the hypocrisy of U.S. politicians, something that many refuse to accept even when it is obvious. Moreover, the prisoner dialogue opens an opportunity to prevent Saab from being unjustly tried by US courts and that in itself would be a victory.
An initial reading of these facts shows Biden’s desperation, but we cannot forget he represents the largest economy in the world, which gives him much room for maneuver. Meanwhile, the scenario for Venezuela is hopeful, while still being a challenge for Caracas diplomacy. However, it is still too early to speak of the final outcome of this process, whose major achievements will take some months to materialize.
The hegemony of the US is not what it once was and it is operating from a weakened position, one that that has been exposed by the Russia – Ukraine war which has shifted the geo-political stage of the world; one that will never be the same.
*Featured Image: illustration: Greg Groesch/Washington Times