US Senators, Venezuelan Opposition Pressure Biden Not to Lift Oil Sanctions

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz rejected any potential easing of sanctions against Venezuela as it would further erode the Guaidó experiment.

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The Biden administration has maintained the Trump-era wide-reaching sanctions program against Venezuela despite growing international calls demanding their removal for violating human rights. (The New York Times)
The Biden administration has maintained the Trump-era wide-reaching sanctions program against Venezuela despite growing international calls demanding their removal for violating human rights. (The New York Times)
By Andreína Chávez Alava
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Caracas, October 27, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – US Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) penned a letter to President Joe Biden rejecting any sanctions relief against Venezuela.

“We are concerned with recent reports that your administration is considering allowing Chevron to restart oil operations with [Venezuelan state company] Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) [...] which remains under US sanctions,” read the letter, sent on Wednesday.

The senators went on to warn Biden not to “remove or lessen any sanctions currently in place for PDVSA,” the Caribbean country's main source of foreign income.

In the letter, the Republican representatives added that “at no point” should Biden give Caracas access to frozen bank accounts (some US 6$ billion), nor remove sanctions against Venezuela’s Central Bank (BCV) and the Venezuelan Economic and Social Development Bank (BANDES) and subsidiaries or even allow transactions involving new debt.

They additionally opposed the lifting or easing of sanctions against Venezuela's General Mining Company (Minerven), which is part of the all-important state-owned basic industry conglomerate Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana (CVG). In 2019, the US Treasury Department levied sanctions on Minerven and Caracas’ gold trading operations.

Senators Rubio and Cruz have been staunch promoters of Washington’s deadly unilateral coercive measures, known as sanctions, against Venezuela aimed at causing economic asphyxiation and ousting the elected Nicolás Maduro government.

Although regime change has not been achieved, US sanctions have crippled the Venezuelan economy and caused “devastating” effects on the population, affirmed UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan following a visit to the country last year. According to independent research carried out by US economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, sanctions have led to tens of thousands of deaths since their imposition, with 40,000 occurring only in the first year (2017-2018).

The wide-reaching sanctions policy against Venezuela began under the former Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, which targeted every key sector of the economy, including mining, banking, food imports and especially the oil industry.

Since 2017, the US Treasury Department has imposed financial sanctions against PDVSA followed by an oil embargo and a number of secondary sanctions and other measures. Washington also forced foreign companies to abandon or wind down operations in the Caribbean country and to put an end to swap agreements.

Chevron has been the only foreign company with permission to maintain a minimal presence in Venezuela to preserve its oil wells. Last year, the California-based firm began lobbying to get expanded sanctions exemptions from the Treasury Department to resume drilling and trading Venezuelan crude in order to offset some US $3 billion owed by PDVSA.

In May, Chevron and PDVSA began negotiations and later reached a reported agreement on revamped oil operations. The approval of a broader sanctions waiver for the US company could be in the works, according to a Wall Street Journal report. So far, there has been no official announcement, with the White House allegedly waiting for the midterm elections before deciding its course.

US officials have held meetings with the Maduro government in recent months resulting in a prisoner exchange and talks on easing oil sanctions. The Biden administration, however, has maintained that any changes to its sanctions policy will depend on the resumption of negotiations between President Maduro and the hardline opposition.

Senators Rubio and Cruz’s letter rejecting a sanctions waiver for Chevron came on the heels of a Washington meeting between US State Department officials and the hardline Venezuelan opposition led by self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó. Sources told Argus Media that the opposition representatives spoke against any sanctions relief, specifically any deal with the US corporation.

In Wednesday’s letter, the US senators likewise opposed the recent rapprochement between Biden and the Venezuelan government claiming it is “eroding” international support for Guaidó.

The senators’ protest comes amidst growing international disaffection with the opposition leader after failing to wield any political power in four years. According to multiple reports, Venezuelan opposition parties are furthermore planning to withdraw support for the “interim government” in order to focus on a primary contest in mid-2023 ahead of the 2024 presidential elections.

Guaidó’s uncertain future follows months of corruption scandals in the management of foreign-based Venezuelan assets and funds. An exclusive report from HispanoPost disclosed that opposition parties aligned with Guaidó currently receive between $100,000 and $200,000 per month of funding from frozen bank accounts seized by the US.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.

 

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