Dialogue, Sanctions and Hidden Agendas

VA columnist Sergio Rodríguez breaks down the timid and tenuous openings from the Biden administration towards Venezuela.

In early March, a few days after Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine, a high-level US government delegation arrived in Caracas and met with President Nicolás Maduro. The meeting was followed by an impressive amount of speculation, guesswork and predictions so far-fetched that they ranged from Venezuela having “betrayed” Russia, to President Biden lifting sanctions against Caracas out of concern for the repercussions of the military conflict in Europe.

The conflict in Ukraine began to fill the news spectrum all over the world and became the axis around which international political debates revolved. In that sense, anything that happened anywhere in the world was linked to that event. And it was difficult to believe otherwise.

Those of us who have been involved in these matters for some years —in my case for more than four decades— and those who know the nature of imperialism, do not hold high expectations about what this meeting could entail for Venezuela. If anything, some cosmetic changes that would allow President Biden and the Democratic Party to face the November midterms in better shape.

Three months have gone by and, except for lukewarm measures of flexibility adopted in mid-May, nothing important has happened. The authorization announced on May 17 for US oil company Chevron to begin negotiations with the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, awakened —as in March— a series of elaborate theories and new prophecies. In concrete terms, the US Treasury Department granted Chevron a limited license to discuss the terms of possible future activities in Venezuela, but still prohibiting “the execution of any agreement with PDVSA or any other activity involving the Venezuelan oil sector.” In practice, the US government only greenlighted Chevron to “talk” with its Venezuelan counterpart.

The international media rushed to clarify that the step taken by the Biden administration had been decided after consulting with the Venezuelan opposition, adding that it was also meant to boost dialogue between the Maduro government and its antagonists. It had supposedly been a request made by Juan Guaidó, whom the US continues to recognize as Venezuela’s “interim president.”

A cold analysis of the facts makes it clear that in reality, the US government is trying to give some protagonism to the Guaidó-led terrorist faction of the opposition, which is under White House orders. In recent times, the US-backed sector has been left out of Venezuela’s political playing field after failing in its attempts to violently overthrow the Maduro government, despite counting on financial, military, political and diplomatic support from the US and Colombia.

All terrorist efforts by the US-backed opposition failed and Venezuela began moving towards a positive institutional reconstruction with the participation of important (other) sectors of the opposition. This process has been accompanied by an visible economic improvement and the Maduro government’s excellent handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the opposition sector managed by Washington has been left out of the national political game.

In this context, it seems that Washington is betting on offering tenuous sanctions relief in exchange for its puppets obtaining some space in the country’s political scenario. That would explain the insistence on stressing that the decision regarding Chevron was taken following a request from Guaidó and the self-styled “Unitary Platform” in order to reactivate a negotiation process that, according to the US, must continue in Mexico.

Washington’s insistence that the negotiations take place in Mexico and not Venezuela stems from its inability to follow the discussion and give direct orders to the opposition, which acts as an agent for US interests. Too late did the US government realize that closing its embassy in Caracas left it deaf and blind to on-the-ground political events. To that extent, the US has been forced to bitterly swallow the fantasies and wishes that for years the opposition has been selling to the White House.

But the truth is there is no reason whatsoever for the government-opposition talks to take place outside Venezuela, where an atmosphere of tranquility and peace prevails with a strengthened Venezuelan democracy. Long gone are the days of guarimbas (violent protests), street terrorism, and baseless, imminent victory prospects proclaimed by Guaidó, Leopoldo López, and their supporters only three years ago.

Everyone knows that the talks in Mexico, although carried out between Venezuelans, in reality, were negotiations between the Maduro administration and the US government, which does not want to publicly acknowledge that Nicolás Maduro is the only one ruling in Venezuela.

For this reason, Caracas reacted cautiously to Washington’s apparent sanctions relief announcement. After learning the news through the media, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez said on Twitter that Venezuela hoped that these steps by the US government would pave “the way for the absolute lifting of the illegal sanctions that affect all our people.” A few days later, and given the evidence that the alleged easing of sanctions was nothing more than a smoke screen to give oxygen to the opposition, the Vice President of the ruling Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Diosdado Cabello, assured that “the United States has not changed its policy towards Venezuela: “[…] they have not lifted any sanctions […] and knowing the gringos, I doubt they’ll ever be true to their word.”

Meanwhile, in the US, the ultra-right sector entrenched in the US-Cuba lobby exploded as it did in March when a US delegation visited Maduro in Caracas. Democratic Senator and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menéndez, questioned the White House’s decision while his Republican colleague Marco Rubio criticized Biden for continuing “to appease the anti-US communist dictators.”

It is clear that just like Cuba, Venezuela is now a permanent feature of negotiation that responds to the different interests emerging from US domestic politics, particularly in the state of Florida. To that extent, and as long as the US government continues to be blackmailed by the Cuban lobby, Venezuela’s affairs will hardly be managed within the framework of international law and the rules that govern the relations between two independent and sovereign nations.

Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein is a geopolitics expert, journalist, and professor with a PhD in Political Science from Venezuela’s Universidad de los Andes. He is the author of 16 books, including De Bush a Trump. De la guerra contra el terrorismo a la guerra comercial and La controversia entre Bolívar e Irvine. El nacimiento de Venezuela como actor internacional.

A former director of International Relations for the Venezuelan presidency and Venezuelan Ambassador to Nicaragua, Rodríguez Gelfenstein is currently a guest researcher at Shanghai University’s Graduate School.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.