Biden’s envoy to the Climate Conference, John Kerry, exchanged smiles and handshakes with Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro this Tuesday (20) , behind the scenes of COP27, the annual UN conference now taking place in Egypt, as shown in a brief video of the meeting. This is reminiscent of last year’s UN meeting, where Kerry embraced another regime involved in widespread human rights abuses.
The Associated Press clip shows Maduro and Kerry shaking hands, and then having a brief conversation in which they laugh and smile. Kerry is shown waving her finger at Maduro and then rubbing her fingers in what appears to be a playful “Shame on!”
The State Department was quick to downplay the incident on the afternoon of Tuesday. Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters the conversation was unplanned and that the two figures did not discuss anything of substance. Even so, it indicates the direction in which the government can head in this area.
The 27 second conversation takes place in the midst of a broader effort by the Biden administration to give the Maduro regime a truce by lifting sanctions imposed by Trump over human rights concerns and other things. Many observers say this could lead to a reversal of the ban on all oil imports from the Latin American country.
Last month, the Wall Street Journal
reported that the government is eyeing a significant reversal of sanctions on the regime, paving the way for Chevron to resume operations in Venezuela. As part of a possible agreement, Caracas would “in good faith” resume dialogue with the democratic Venezuelan opposition. According to the article, the agreement could include making millions of dollars in funds currently unavailable to the Venezuelan government available.
Biden’s US continues to recognize exiled opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president. from Venezuela. During a meeting with an opposition group last month, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman expressed her support for the “return of negotiations with the Maduro regime”, in remarks given in Mexico City.
The rise in the price of gasoline, as well as the influx of Venezuelan immigrants on the southern border of the US, however, could be the reasons the government is easing its conduct regarding Maduro. This softening by the White House of the Trump-era stance also accompanied negotiations regarding American hostages held by the Venezuelan government. In early October, Biden announced the return of seven individuals wrongfully detained by the regime.
President Biden has been forging the appearance of his foreign policy in terms of a fundamental competition between democracy and authoritarianism in this century. This turnaround in Venezuela calls into question the sincerity of this approach. Furthermore, Maduro maintains close relations with US adversaries such as Iran and Russia.
In 2016, Kerry, then Secretary of State, met with Maduro in Colombia, in the context of growing Venezuelan instability. Maduro, who had been in the presidency for three years after an election with accusations of fraud, bragged about the meeting, claiming that the US envoy said he could visit Venezuela:
“And I hope John Kerry comes to Venezuela soon too. I said, ‘When are you coming to Venezuela to visit us?’ And he: “Since things are going well, I will go to Venezuela.’ I said: “You are welcome in Venezuela, John Kerry”, so we should all know that progress is possible.
This is not the first time that Kerry, in his current role, has come under scrutiny for being friendly with brutal dictators at the UN Climate Conference. At last year’s meeting in Glasgow, Kerry outlined the model of a deal with its Chinese counterpart, informing reporters that Beijing’s atrocities against the Uighurs “are none of my business”. Kerry held out hope that China would return to the negotiating table, even after Chinese envoy Xie Zhenhua stopped responding to her emails.
Kerry’s affability towards Maduro is also likely to cause a big headache for the government, especially during the midterm elections, in which the Democrats lose their majority in at least one of the legislative houses. On Twitter, Senator Rick Scott, leader of the Republicans’ Senate campaign, called the interaction “disgusting”, adding that it “signals an absolute disregard for the evils committed by the regime” of Maduro.
No However, no political outcome should overcomplicate Kerry’s life, as he is reportedly aiming for a post-election exit, in part to avoid being called to testify by Republican lawmakers in an investigation. (Kerry’s office has denied that he has plans to step down.)