America and Venezuela in Negotiations for Normalization

Nicolas Maduro

America and Venezuela in Negotiations for Normalization

Will Nicolás Maduro get his lifeline?

The United States is negotiating with Venezuela to normalize relations, the Wall Street Journal reported on October 5. Citing U.S. officials, the report stated Washington is offering the regime of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro sanctions relief. In exchange, Maduro is to resume talks with Venezuela’s political opposition. Sanctions relief would mean unfreezing hundreds of millions of frozen state funds. It would also allow Western oil companies to resume work in Venezuela.

Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. In 2019, its reserves were estimated at 304 billion barrels worth. (By comparison, Saudi Arabia the same year recorded 298 billion barrels.) Yet its economy for years has been in shambles. This is due to the economic mismanagement of its Socialist regime. Since leftist strongman Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, the Venezuelan government had nationalized key industries—including the oil industries—to fund revamped social programs.

Chávez’s program did increase Venezuelans’ standard of living—at first. But after Chávez died of cancer in 2013 (and after he corroded democracy and turned Venezuela into an authoritarian state), things really went south. Because of corruption, economic mismanagement and falling oil prices, Venezuela lost its cash cow. The economy, now over-reliant on the fossil fuel industry, collapsed.

This has made the presidency of Maduro—Chávez’s former number two—unpopular. Maduro has had to rely on vote rigging and increasing authoritarianism to stay in power. He has, meanwhile, reached out to Cuba, Russia and China to keep his government afloat. Maduro’s position is so tenuous he is relying on Cuban soldiers for his own personal protection. Meanwhile, the 6.8 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants (per government sources) who fled the country make up, according to the United Nations, “the second-largest external displacement crisis in the world.”

Technically, the U.S. government doesn’t even recognize Maduro’s regime as legitimate. After the (most likely fraudulent) 2018 presidential election, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly declared Maduro illegitimate. It declared Juan Guaidó, President of the National Assembly, the legitimate president. Guaidó has no real political power in Venezuela. However, he is recognized by a number of Western governments, including America. Washington has implemented economic sanctions against the government, state oil company and central bank.

The sanctions haven’t stopped countries like Russia from doing business with Venezuela. But they have shut Maduro out of Western markets and have kept his regime struggling to stay afloat.

The current negotiations could change all of this.

The Wall Street Journal wrote:

In exchange for the significant sanctions relief, the [Maduro] government … would resume long-suspended talks with the country’s opposition to discuss conditions needed to hold free and fair presidential elections in 2024, the [sources] said. The U.S., Venezuela’s government and some Venezuelan opposition figures have also worked out a deal that would free up hundreds of millions of dollars in Venezuelan state funds frozen in American banks to pay for imports of food, medicine and equipment for the country’s battered electricity grid and municipal water systems.

More details are expected to agreed upon later this month. But American oil companies are already excited at the prospect of working in Venezuela again. Ali Moshiri, a former executive at Chevron, estimates that foreign companies could bring Venezuela’s oil production levels to 1.5 million barrels a day in two years. The output in August of this year was 678,000 barrels per day.

Washington says the sanctions removal are only on the table if Maduro starts talks with the opposition. “There are no plans to change our sanctions policy without constructive steps from the Maduro regime,” said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.

Could the negotiations be a solution to Venezuela’s problems?

Maduro has held power through rigging elections, crushing dissent, and silencing the press. His security forces tried to have Guaidó arrested last year. He’s resisted making democratic reform in Venezuela for years. The next election at the latest will be held two years from now. Considering Venezuela’s current crisis, an opposition figure like Guaidó would almost certainly be able to oust Maduro. Out from power, Maduro could be vulnerable to arrest and face trial for some of his actions as president.

Maduro has already demonstrated an unconcern for the welfare of his own people if it means surviving—even as his country falls apart. There is no way he would be OK with negotiating with Washington if it meant a serious risk to his stay in power.

Consider this: All that the Biden administration is asking for is talks. Maduro could offer the opposition some token victories they didn’t have before. But he’s already demonstrated he would let Venezuela crumble before he leaves office. And his letting Venezuela crumble has made him a lot of enemies. He’d be more vulnerable to these enemies if he lost an election. Every action he takes has to be seen in the light of him trying to prolong his regime’s survival.

Negotiations haven’t brought an agreement as of yet. There is no final document yet to pour over the details of. But don’t expect anything to come that could bring a legitimate chance to ending the Maduro regime. And that’s all assuming the talks don’t break down.

And that the U.S. would offer Venezuela’s foreign reserves to Maduro as a prize is a slap in the face to the opposition. By recognizing Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, Washington is giving him access to Venezuela’s offshore holdings. Such a move would not only deprive the opposition of tangible government assets. It would effectively mean Washington recognizes Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate ruler. It wouldn’t be long before other Western governments follow suit. Recognition by foreign governments is one of the few things keeping Guaidó’s cause afloat. Jeopardizing that would help Maduro keep his hold on power even more so.

The opposition knows all of this. The opposition knows Maduro most likely will never leave the capital unless forced out. Yet they are still participant to the U.S.-led talks. This suggests how desperate the opposition is for some chance of some success in the upcoming elections.

An increase in oil revenues would bring some help to the situation of Venezuelans. That Maduro would let American companies into Venezuela’s oil fields again after Chávez kicked them out suggests he’s seeing some reform is necessary. But the fundamental problems of Venezuela’s collapse would stay in Caracas with Maduro. Any deal reached would be like setting up a security system on the condition that the burglar can keep doing what he’s doing.

And that’s all assuming that Maduro uses the money—hundreds of millions of dollars—for purely humanitarian reasons. His track record makes this suspect.

It’s not as if Venezuela has recently shown a change of heart, either. A United Nations team recently concluded Venezuela’s intelligence agencies are guilty of crimes against humanity. Another UN report condemned Venezuela’s security forces as being complicit in “widespread sex trafficking and violence against vulnerable women and children” in Bolívar state. Caracas was and is one of the closest friends of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism. Venezuela lets Iran use its oil refineries to process its crude.

Some suspect the normalization negotiations are Washington’s way of trying to get the price of oil down. With Russia’s war in Ukraine harming oil prices, a sudden influx of oil in the market would lower prices. But America could accomplish this by increasing its own oil production. It could accomplish this by encouraging some of its oil-rich allies to do the same, like Norway or Canada. (Canada has the world’s third-largest oil reserves.) Why is America going to Venezuela—a barely-functioning banana republic that is as anti-American as could be—of all countries for this? And why, in doing so, is it undermining the Venezuelan opposition it previously supported?

The Biden administration and the Obama administration before it, have a track record of normalizing relations with and throwing lifelines to anti-American states. They did so with Iran. They did so with Cuba. They did so with the Taliban. But if you’d think there would be one country where they couldn’t get away with this as easily, it would be Venezuela. What Chávez and Maduro did to Venezuela is so blatantly catastrophic even most leftists are quick to condemn the situation in Caracas.

Yet Washington wants to bring one of the world’s most openly anti-American regimes back into the international community. And with its huge oil resources and strategic geography on the Caribbean Sea, one of America’s most important trade arteries, this new Venezuela would become even more of a thorn in America’s side.

If anything, America’s previous deals with its enemies may be what brought Maduro to the negotiating table. If Iran and Cuba can get a good deal, then why shouldn’t Venezuela?

What is going on? Why is America actively empowering its enemies? Is this incompetence? Or is this by design?

“Do you believe the United States of America has been mainly a positive force in the world for most of its history?” Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry asks in his booklet Great Again. “If you do, then surely you are deeply alarmed by the state of America today.”

“The nation’s foreign policy is utterly transformed,” he wrote. “We have seen apologies, concessions and surrenders made to dictators and despots, while longtime alliances … have been cast aside. Nations that have relied on America for leadership, strength, security, protection and largesse face a new reality and are having to forge alternative relationships, even if they undermine America.”

“There is a spiritual dimension to America’s decline that most people do not see. The crisis facing this nation is not because of a bad president! The cause is far deeper. But most people are unwilling to face it.”

This isn’t incompetence. There is intentional design with America’s foreign policy pivots. Many in Washington today see America’s role in the world as not a force for good, but for evil. To them, characters like Maduro and the Taliban are not ruthless autocrats. Rather, they’re anti-imperialists fighting for the freedom of their people. They’re people that need to be supported.

But that’s not the end of the story. As Mr. Flurry wrote, the cause is far deeper.

Find out what it is by requesting a free copy of Great Again.