After several years of intense diplomatic tensions with Venezuela, is the United States ready to turn the page? The visit this weekend to Caracas by senior American officials, including Juan Gonzalez, Joe Biden’s Latin America adviser, came as a surprise, as the two countries have looked at each other like faience dogs since 2019. But the invasion of Ukraine by Russia could be a game-changer.
On Monday March 7, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro confirmed what the American press had already reported: a meeting with a high-level American delegation had indeed taken place the previous weekend in Caracas. A meeting qualified as “respectful, cordial and diplomatic” by the South American Head of State.
“The two beautiful flags were there, united as the flags of the United States and Venezuela should be, and we talked for almost two hours,” declared the successor of Hugo Chavez during a televised address.
Unpublished tone by Nicolas Maduro
A surprise visit, and a completely new tone from Nicolás Maduro, at least since 2018, when a large part of the international community – United States and European Union in the lead – decided not to recognize his re-election, after a campaign boycotted by the opposition. In April 2019, Washington imposed new sanctions, targeting Venezuela’s national resource in particular: oil.
→ READ. In Venezuela, the dollar of the “great Satan” is gradually gaining ground
For many observers, the origin of this diplomatic about-face is far from the American continent: in Europe. Since the Russian tanks roll on Ukrainian soil, Caracas and Washington would have a common interest: the lifting of American sanctions.
Because if the American embargo on black gold hurts the wallet of Caracas, forced to sell off its oil where it can, it also deprives the world market of a resource in great demand, even though the economic recovery and the war in Ukraine are causing prices to soar. The price of gasoline at the pump in the United States is approaching its historic highs (2008), which is not good for Joe Biden a few months before the midterm elections.
Also, as the US administration is about to ban imports of Russian oil, Venezuelan barrels could come in handy. Admittedly, Venezuela, for lack of investment, has seen its production collapse – from 3 million barrels per day under Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) to 700,000 today. But its production could start up again quite quickly: “We can imagine a doubling over twelve months”, considers a businessman familiar with the matter.
A sign that the two parties could find common ground, Nicolás Maduro announced without delay a resumption of dialogue with the opposition, suspended five months ago by Caracas. This recovery, provided it is accompanied by real progress, is one of the prerequisites for the lifting of American sanctions.
Weaken Moscow in Latin America
More broadly, by relaunching discussions with Caracas, Washington is continuing its efforts to isolate Moscow. The diplomatic crisis between the United States and Venezuela has indeed been taken advantage of in recent years by Russia. “At the beginning of 2021, Moscow and Caracas signed 12 agreements which concern the economy, energy, health and the military, pursues the businessman. Joint military operations are even beginning to inconvenience its neighbour, Colombia, which denounces Russian military interference on its border. »
→ CONTEXT. War in Ukraine: Latin America drops Russia at the UN
But the invasion of Ukraine seems to have cast a chill over Latin America. As proof, the strong support of the countries of the region for the UN resolution condemning the Russian offensive. While Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia had supported Moscow in 2014 when it annexed Crimea, these states abstained this year (Venezuela could not take part in the vote, due to delay payment to the UN). And important countries, like Argentina or Brazil, abstentionists in 2014, approved the resolution.
Politically, this rapprochement is nevertheless delicate for the American president. ” For Biden to hold secret meetings with narco-terrorist Maduro without even telling Venezuelans who have suffered and risked everything by opposing Maduro is a despicable betrayal. “, immediately reacted on Twitter the Republican senator from Florida, Marco Rubio.