Guayaquil, Ecuador, March 9, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro pledged to restart the dialogue process with the hardline opposition following a first-contact meeting with officials from the United States government.
“We have decided to reactivate the dialogue process with all political, economic, and religious sectors of the country. We are restructuring the talks to make them broader and more inclusive,” stated Maduro on Monday in a state television broadcast.
The Venezuelan mandatary added that new talks “must provide all the political guarantees for the coming years” as they would be "more comprehensive” in the path to secure “peace and [economic] recovery.”
"The dialogue in Mexico received a tremendous blow, but if we are asking for dialogue for the world we must set an example with our country," expressed Maduro regarding his calls for negotiations to de-escalate the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
No specific date or location for the revamped talks has been set at the time of writing.
The Norway-brokered negotiations held in Mexico City between the Maduro administration and the US-backed opposition led by self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó were suspended in October 2021. The government delegation left the talks following special diplomatic envoy Alex Saab’s arrest in Cape Verde and his subsequent extradition to Florida to face money laundering charges that his lawyers have deemed “politically motivated.” Authorities had previously conditioned their return to the table on Saab’s release.
In the three rounds of dialogue, the government and the opposition signed a Memorandum of Understanding and reached two agreements, in which they recognized Venezuela’s sovereignty over the Essequibo Strip and prioritized economic recovery.
For its part, the Guaidó-led sector reacted to the news confirming their availability for a new round of negotiations with the government while opposing any sanctions relief that does not comply with their demands of “free elections.”
Renewed contact with Washington
President Maduro’s announcement to reactivate dialogue with the hardline opposition came after holding a first-contact meeting with a high-level US government delegation that visited Caracas on March 5.
“We held a respectful, cordial and very diplomatic meeting and we spent almost two hours talking,” stated Maduro, adding that they had agreed “to work on an agenda moving forward.”
The Venezuelan head of state said he presented a “positive agenda” and said more details would be disclosed in the following days. “Conversations between the US government and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will continue.”
These are the first official bilateral talks between the two nations since the Venezuelan government broke diplomatic relations with Washington in January 2019. The decision was prompted by the former Trump administration's recognition of Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
For its part, the Biden administration likewise acknowledged that US officials had traveled to Venezuela to meet with the Bolivarian government, with the parties discussing “energy security” and “the well-being of detained United States citizens.”
“There was a dialogue with members of the [Maduro] administration in the past few days, and negotiations are open,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.
The high-level meeting spurred quick developments with the release of US citizens Gustavo Cardenas and Jorge Fernández on Tuesday. “Two Americans who were wrongfully detained in Venezuela will be able to hug their families once more,” confirmed a White House statement.
In 2021, Cuban-American citizen Jorge Fernández was arrested on terrorism charges after being caught bringing a drone into Venezuela through the Colombia border in Táchira state. Gustavo Cardenas is one of the six former executives from oil subsidiary CITGO who were imprisoned in 2017 on corruption charges. A lawyer for the so-called “CITGO six” told media outlets that the remaining five oil managers "are still detained.”
With the Biden administration banning imports of Russian oil as retaliation for the military operation in Ukraine, Washington is scrambling to find alternative sources to make up for the shortfall. The latest sanctions against Moscow’s energy sector are likely to drive up oil prices, resulting in even higher costs at gas stations across the North American nation.
According to Reuters, the US delegation that visited Caracas proposed oil sanctions relief under the condition that the Caribbean country ships crude directly to the United States. The demand has not been confirmed by any of the parties.
The Maduro government has repeatedly stated that the country’s main demand in all negotiations with the US-backed opposition is broad sanctions relief and the return of Venezuelan seized assets abroad, including the US $8 billion-worth CITGO.
Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, had a steady crude production of around 1.9 million barrels per day (bpd) and exported approximately 500,000 bpd to US markets until sanctions targeted the sector. Starting in 2017, the US Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions against state oil company PDVSA, as well as a full-fledged oil embargo and a host of secondary measures.
As a result, PDVSA was cut off from international markets, blocked from servicing debt and foreign companies were threatened to abandon joint oil ventures in the country. One of the corporations affected was US oil giant Chevron, whose executives have recently been lobbying US diplomats for a sanctions waiver that would allow the firm to receive crude cargoes as debt payment.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Caracas.