The same autocrat is still in the presidential palace. With 6.8 million people displaced, Venezuela has about as many refugees as Ukraine or Syria. And those who still live in the socialist welfare state of President Nicolás Maduro have to rely on money shipments from relatives abroad to be able to buy something. Still, the US Biden administration would be willing to lift the toughest oil sanctions against Venezuela , business newspaper The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday . After six months of negotiations with Caracas, Washington is on the verge of allowing US petro giant Chevron to resume operations in the South American country. At a time when Western countries are desperately looking for alternatives to Russian energy due to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Venezuelan oil could be exported back to the US and European markets. In return, Venezuela must pledge to negotiate “in good faith” with the opposition on “fair” presidential elections, in 2024. Rapprochement after Russian invasion The Biden administration would end the “maximum pressure campaign” launched under his predecessor Trump. With strict sanctions and the recognition of opposition leader Juan Guaidó as a legitimate ‘interim president’, the US and other Western countries tried to unseat Maduro. In the spring of 2019 , Washington even orchestrated a failed coup attempt behind the scenes when Guaidó tried to seize power with the help of some insurgent military personnel. That year, Chevron was also forced to leave the country with sanctions. But Maduro survived all the pressure. Venezuela continued to export oil, selling it at significant discounts to China and other Asian countries. The worst shortages of food, commodities and medicines and hyperinflation were combated by informally running the Venezuelan economy – modeled on ally Cuba – on US dollars. Guaidó still calls himself ‘interim president’, but most western governments are again openly talking to the Maduro regime. ‘Narcones’ released On March 5 this year, top US officials traveled to Caracas, where the US closed its embassy years ago. That date was partly symbolic: it was the ninth anniversary of the death of Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez (president from 1999 until his death in 2013). But the meeting was given added urgency by the start, nine days earlier, of the war in Ukraine. With the disappearance of Russia as an energy supplier, Venezuela suddenly became acceptable to the West as an oil source. Also read: With import ban on Russian oil, Biden risks economic pain In recent months, work has been done step by step on rapprochement. In May, the US removed a corrupt cousin of First Lady Cilia Flores from a sanctions list. At the same time, Chevron was authorized to conduct exploratory talks with Venezuelan state oil company PdVSA about possible new drilling licenses. Italy’s ENI and Spain’s Repsol were given the green light by the US in June to start talks with Venezuela about swapping oil for debt relief. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (l) and his wife Cilia Flores. Photo Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Reuters Last week, another breakthrough occurred thanks to a prisoner swap. Venezuela released seven Americans, including five senior executives from Citgo, the Texas affiliate of PdVSA, who were arrested in 2017 during a working visit to their parent company. The US in turn released two cousins of Prima dama Flores on Saturday, who were arrested by the Americans in Haiti in 2018 for drug smuggling and were sentenced to long prison terms in Florida for this. Biden pardoned both ‘narco-females’. Collapsed Oil Sector As a next step in the detente, Chevron and support service companies should be allowed to resume operations in Venezuela. Already under Chávez, who nationalized the oil sector and gave way to corruption and mismanagement at PdVSA, production collapsed. Venezuela pumped up to 2.3 million barrels per day at the beginning of this century, currently this is less than half a million barrels. The massive departure of technicians and experts and two decades of divestments and overdue maintenance are not easily solved. According to the most optimistic expectations, Venezuelan production could return to 1 million barrels per day in a few months. Certainly after the production cut that oil cartel OPEC+ announced on Wednesday – under pressure from Russia – that is not enough to calm the global energy market again. But in the West, every little bit is now welcome.
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