Since 2022, under the complicated international background of the escalating crisis in Ukraine, the US Biden administration has taken the initiative to throw an “olive branch” to Venezuela, expressing its intention to relax sanctions on it. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s Maduro government has re-engaged with the opposition. On November 11-12, under the active mediation of French President Emmanuel Macron, Colombian President Gustavo Petro and Argentine President Alberto Fernandez, the Maduro government and opposition representatives met at the Fifth Paris Peace Forum During the meeting, the resolution of Venezuela’s political crisis seems to be turning around.
US-Venezuela relations turn for the better
Venezuela is an important fossil energy supplier in the world. Its proven oil reserves are about 304 billion barrels, ranking first in the world; its natural gas reserves are 560 million cubic meters, ranking sixth in the world. When a political crisis broke out in Venezuela in 2019, opposition leader Guaido declared the Maduro government “illegal” and called himself the “interim president.” He demanded that the Maduro government step down and hold an early election. The opposition’s position has the support of the United States and the West. After that, the Trump administration of the United States imposed “extreme pressure” on the Venezuelan Maduro government, banned Venezuelan oil exports, and excluded the Venezuelan financial system from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). Under U.S. sanctions, Venezuelan crude oil production has fallen off a cliff. The outbreak and spread of the new crown epidemic has further aggravated this trend. Venezuelan crude oil production has dropped sharply from 1.1 million barrels per day in early 2019 to 300,000 barrels in September 2020 /day record low. After the Biden administration came to power, it began to adjust its policy on Venezuela, expressing its support for Maduro to hold negotiations with the opposition, but at the same time it did not give up its subversive activities against Venezuela. In October 2021, the United States extradited Alex Sabo, the dialogue representative of the Maduro government, from Cape Verde to the United States on the grounds of “money laundering”, which caused the negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition to run aground.
After the Ukrainian crisis broke out in early 2022, relations between the United States and Venezuela took a turn for the better. As the United States and its Western allies successively imposed severe sanctions on Russia, the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and crude oil, international oil prices continued to soar, and an energy crisis broke out around the world. In order to alleviate the energy crisis, the Biden administration has actively sought to improve relations with the Venezuelan Maduro government. On March 6, 2022, Juan Gonzalez, the White House Senior Advisor for Latin American Affairs, led a delegation to visit Venezuela in a flash and met with President Maduro. This became the first official meeting between the two countries after the United States and Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations due to the political crisis in January 2019. The two sides mainly discussed topics such as Venezuelan oil exports to the United States and Venezuela-Russia relations. The Venezuelan side made the removal of economic sanctions a prerequisite for exporting oil to the United States. In May 2022, the United States announced a slight relaxation of sanctions on Venezuelan oil, allowing European companies operating in Venezuela to transfer Venezuelan oil to Europe. business. According to media reports, the United States has allowed Italian energy company Eni and Spanish oil company Repsol to ship Venezuelan oil to Europe to fill the crude oil gap caused by the sanctions imposed by the United States and the West on Russia. Ali Mosi, a Chevron executive, said that if the Biden administration allows Chevron and other foreign companies to operate freely, Venezuela’s crude oil production can reach 1.5 million barrels per day within two years. The Biden administration also spoke publicly, expressing its willingness to relax sanctions and expand its oil business in Venezuela, but the condition is that the Maduro government must sit down and negotiate with the opposition.
Hopes of resumption of talks between ruling and opposition parties grow
Prior to this, the Venezuelan Maduro government and the opposition had made many attempts to negotiate, but all failed. In 2018, the two sides held negotiations in the Dominican Republic, and in Barbados in 2019, but both sides failed to reach substantive results due to large differences. From August to September 2021, the Maduro government and the opposition held three talks in Mexico and reached two agreements, including the establishment of a joint committee to jointly manage funds used to respond to humanitarian crises. Subsequent negotiations, however, were suspended due to the extradition to the United States of Maduro government interlocutor Alex Saab.
After the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis in 2022, as the relationship between the United States and Venezuela showed signs of easing, the positions of the European Union, Canada and other Western allies of the United States on the Venezuela issue have also undergone subtle changes. In June 2022, in order to alleviate the domestic energy crisis, French President Macron even publicly expressed the hope that Venezuela and Iran will return to the international oil market in order to increase global oil supply and curb rising oil prices. The Spanish and Canadian governments also expressed their support for the resumption of negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. At the same time, the regional and domestic situation is also favorable to the Maduro government, increasing the Maduro government’s initiative in the negotiations.
At the regional level, from 2021 to 2022, the “pink wave” will sweep across Latin America again, and Colombia, which has been in power for a long time by the right, will achieve a historic “turn to the left” in 2022. After Colombia’s leftist President Petro Petro took office, he restored diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
Domestically, Venezuela’s economic and political situation has improved. Economically, since 2022, with the rise in international crude oil prices and the increase in Venezuela’s oil production (650,000-700,000 barrels per day), Venezuela’s foreign exchange income from oil has increased. Since the second half of 2021, the country’s agribusiness and pharmaceutical industries have begun to recover, and production has continued to grow. The Central Bank of Venezuela announced that the country’s economic growth will reach 17.04% in the first quarter of 2022; according to the forecast of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America in April 2022, the growth rate of Venezuela is expected to reach 5% in 2022, becoming one of the countries with the best economic performance in South America . Politically, in recent years, the leader of the opposition party, Guaido, has gradually lost popularity, and the opposition has declined. At the end of 2020, the Venezuelan opposition lost in the election of the National Congress, and the ruling Socialist Party of Venezuela ended the era when the opposition party controlled the majority of seats in the parliament. “The tree falls and the monkeys scatter.” The European Union, which once endorsed Venezuelan opposition leader Guaido, no longer calls him the “interim president” of Venezuela. In 2021, the ruling party of Venezuela will win the municipal and regional elections, while the opposition will only win the leadership of 3 of the 23 states.
With the change in the attitude of the United States and the West, and the regional and domestic situation faced by the Maduro government is gradually becoming favorable, the resumption of negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition has been put on the agenda.
Prospects remain uncertain
Under the active mediation of French President Macron, Argentine President Fernandez, and Colombian President Petro, during the 5th Paris Peace Forum from November 11 to 12, the Maduro government held a meeting with opposition representatives. However, the two sides have still not reached an agreement on when to resume negotiations. The Maduro government emphasized that the prerequisite for negotiations is the complete lifting of the 762 sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the United States.
However, the adjustment of the Biden administration’s policy towards Venezuela still faces certain uncertainties. On the one hand, the extent of the Biden administration’s policy adjustments to Venezuela still depends on its ruling environment. The prospect of the current crisis in Ukraine is unclear, and the international energy crisis has not yet reached an irreconcilable level. Venezuelan energy is not the only option for the US and Europe, which means that the US is not very urgent to lift sanctions against Venezuela. In addition, Biden’s lifting of sanctions against Venezuela also encountered some domestic resistance. Some members of Congress, represented by Bob Menendez, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have expressed their dissatisfaction with Biden’s contact with Venezuela.
On the other hand, the Biden administration still handles relations with Venezuela based on ideology. Gonzalez, the US White House adviser on Latin American affairs, met with Guaido when he visited Venezuela in early March 2022, which shows that the Biden administration “will never die.”
A resolution to the Venezuelan crisis appears to be on the horizon, but the outlook remains uncertain.