Senior officials from the White House and State Department are in Venezuela to meet with the government led by Nicolas Maduro. While Maduro has maintained power in Venezuela, since 2019 the US has recognized opposition figure Juan Guaido as the country’s true leader, backing him with millions in aid while making his rise to power a condition for sanctions relief.
Arriving in Caracas over the weekend, the US delegation includes White House official Roger Carstens, National Security Council staffer Juan González and the US envoy to Venezuela Jimmy Story, the Washington Post reports.
According to unnamed sources who talked to the New York Times, the move is meant to counter Moscow’s influence. After the US began sanctioning Venezuela in 2015, Maduro increased economic ties with Iran, Russia, and China. The relationship between Caracas and Moscow has only grown deeper since, as Russia sent 100 troops and unspecified gear to Venezuela in 2019, having already sent advisers in the past.
With some Biden officials anticipating a protracted, decades-long conflict in Ukraine, they worry Russia’s foothold in South America could present a security threat.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the US delegation proposed lifting sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector for a limited period of time, fearing price spikes as Russia – a major energy exporter – is now buried in Western penalties over its invasion of Ukraine. Washington would consider lifting the sanctions on “national security grounds,” the Journal added.
In a speech last week, President Maduro hinted that he may be open to the US proposal, which would finally allow his country to sell its plentiful oil on the open market.
“Here lies the oil of Venezuela, which is available for whomever wants to produce and buy it, be it an investor from Asia, Europe or the United States,” he said.
While Maduro may be willing to open up to Western oil markets, it’s unclear what that would mean for Venezuela’s ties with Russia. In the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Maduro called President Vladimir Putin to condemn the “destabilizing actions of the United States and NATO” and voice his “strong support” for Moscow.
The Biden administration is also likely seeking to lower American gas prices with the move. While the price per gallon has steadily risen since the start of his term, it has spiked in the past week as the West levied heavy sanctions on Russia.