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Will Ukraine invasion help thaw US-Venezuela relations?

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Posted: Monday, March 14, 2022. 10:25 am CST.

Photo Credit: Reuters

By Aaron Humes: The saying “politics makes strange bedfellows” clearly seems to apply to recent high-level talks between US and Venezuelan officials, as the BBC reports.

Or perhaps, a timelier phrase is apropos: “These are desperate times, and desperate measures are needed.”

After years of rancour and sanctions – Washington attacking over President Nicolás Maduro’s poor democratic and human rights record and indicting him on charges including narco-terrorism, drug-trafficking, and corruption; Caracas in return, accuses the US of colonialism and bullying, and of trying to get involved – unreasonably – in Venezuela’s internal affairs – the U.S. is trying something new.

Unquestionably, what lies beneath the rapprochement is oil. Venezuela has it, a lot of it – and the U.S. wants it, with relations with Russia cut off due to the invasion of Ukraine.

President Maduro said after the meeting last weekend, “A new opportunity has been opened. We had a respectful, cordial and very diplomatic meeting. It’s time for diplomacy, truth and peace.” He added he was ready to return to talks with the Venezuela opposition, hosted in Mexico. And a few days after the US-Caracas meeting, Venezuela released two jailed US citizens.

Capital city residents are less convinced, one telling the BBC, “Both sides are hypocritical, I don’t believe anyone,” while another sounded more willing to give the talks a chance.

But experts say don’t hold your breath for rapid change. Venezuela once had the capacity to produce around three million barrels of oil a day. It’s now under a million. Any increase in production would require a great deal of investment – and that would also require an easing of sanctions. The Middle East, say experts, is the only solution in the short-term.

And then there is the matter of Venezuela’s relationships with China, whom it is exporting oil through and Russia, which may do the same causing unwanted competition.

“Venezuela is currently exporting through China and Maduro is getting tons of money compared to the past two years,” says Francisco Monaldi, the director of the Latin American Energy Program at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston. “Having said that, the disruption of the markets that’s happening will make Russians send tons of oil to China at a heavy discount, and that will disturb Maduro’s business.”

“Violence is the expression of the capitalist world,” Venezuela’s Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez said last week. “NATO countries provoking a power like Russia. What are they looking for? The annihilation of the entire world? Venezuela raises its voice for peace. You will never see us in the war ranks.”

At most, one expert believes, the rhetoric will be toned down some, but otherwise it’s wait and see.

 

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