years since the return to power of Hugo Chávez, in Caracas, in April 2022.
| Photo: EFE/ RONALD PEÑA
This week, the government of Joe Biden announced a weakening of energy sanctions against the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela. According to the American president, the request was made by the Venezuelan democratic opposition. But there are lies both about what the opposition wants and what the US government has released.
It’s worth looking first at what US officials are saying. Here are the relevant parts of the CNN story:
“ The Biden administration will begin to ease some energy sanctions on Venezuela to encourage ongoing political discussions between President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition, as two senior officials from the government to CNN.
The first step (…) will allow Chevron – the last major oil company in the US still operating in Venezuela – negotiate its license with state oil company PDVSA to continue operations in the country, officials said. (…)
The decision to ease some US energy sanctions on Venezuela came at the request of the country’s opposition, as reported by a senior government official, who seeks to return to negotiations with the Maduro regime (…)
The government took the measures on Tuesday “in full coordination” with Guaidó and his interim government, which the US recognizes as Venezuela’s legitimate leadership, an official said. Before sanctions relief goes further, the US will have to see significant progress in policy discussions, officials said.
Another part of the concessions that the Biden administration made is missing here: it lifted the sanctions on Eric Malpica Flores, nephew of the first lady of Venezuela Despite the government’s claim that it was doing everything at the request and in close coordination with Guaidó and the opposition, Axios news reported that “the Venezuelan opposition released a statement saying that it did not ask the USA to suspend any kind of personal sanctions of officers.” At this point, the US administration is simply being deceptive.
But let’s take the main claim: that the opposition calls for negotiations with the Maduro regime and is willing to support some easing of sanctions. What the opposition really wants are real and serious negotiations with a exact start date.
Now think about what Biden’s diplomats did. They could have told the regime that once negotiations began, sanctions would be eased. Give and receive. Instead, they made their concessions in advance, getting nothing in return.
Opposition sources say the regime is now demanding that Norway, which has long played a useful role in promoting serious negotiations, be excluded from the talks from now on. The likelihood is that the dates for the negotiations will be postponed, or a first round will be held and then the negotiations will end. Nothing serious ever emerged from negotiations on democracy with Nicolás Maduro, because his criminal regime does not allow free elections.
The Biden administration made some elementary diplomatic mistakes and once again made clear its desire to get more Venezuelan oil on the world market. This in itself is a foolish attitude, because Venezuela does not have the capacity to increase exports quickly and substantially.The side effect of this episode will be to strengthen Maduro, weaken the democratic opposition and get nothing in exchange for preventive concessions. Senator Robert Menendez, the Democrat who chairs the Committee on Foreign Relations, was right when he said that “giving Maduro a handful of undeserved handouts just so his regime will promise to sit at the negotiating table is a strategy doomed to failure. The United States should only consider recalibrating sanctions in response to concrete steps in the negotiations, not simply in response to the small talk of a criminal dictator.”
Elliott Abrams is a senior member of the Council on Foreign Relations and chairman of the Vandenberg Coalition.
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