(Trends Wide) — The recent trip by two high-ranking US foreign policy officials to Caracas, Venezuela, is a sign of how much the geopolitical balance could be shifting in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
National Security Council Senior Director Juan Gonzalez and Venezuela Affairs Unit Chief James Story met with embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and his wife on Saturday, the first meeting since relations broke down. diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2019.
So far, coverage of the meeting has focused on the possibility that the White House will lift some of the sanctions it has imposed in recent years on the Venezuelan oil industry to replace imports from Russia that the US president. , Joe Biden, banned today.
Context: Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, and historically, much of its crude oil has been exported to US refineries.
Venezuelan oil: Maduro on Monday confirmed Venezuela’s intention to increase its crude output, a move that comes as Russia’s oil exports are plummeting due to sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.
“We are ready to recover production. One, two or three million barrels, everything! All in the name of peace!” she said.
The US deal might be easier said than done: Oil production in the country is almost at an all time low after years of mismanagement and lack of maintenance of oil facilities.
It would take years and billions of dollars in investment to bring Venezuela’s oil exports back to what they used to be, expert suggests Francisco Monaldi, director of the Energy Program for Latin America at the Baker Institute in Houston. So if the White House needs a short-term solution to lower the price of gasoline, it can’t come from Venezuela.
US Citizen Released: However, the deployment of US officials in Venezuela produced some immediate results. Venezuela released at least one US citizen on Tuesday night, with speculation it was done as a “sign of goodwill” from Maduro (and as part of possible sanctions relief) that has yet to come to pass.
Gustavo Cárdenas is a US citizen detained in Caracas since 2017 and one of six detained oil executives from the US refinery Citgo.
The trip to Caracas signals the intent that the White House is ready to change its long-term relationship with Venezuela. That’s because Caracas has grown much closer to Moscow under the Maduro government.
But it’s a high risk bet: Maduro has walked away from negotiations before, and if it doesn’t work out, Biden is likely to pay a political price.