Is Biden Exploring Venezuela Oil Option? ‘A Lot of Alternatives; We Haven’t Made Up Our Mind Yet’
By Patrick Goodenough
(CNSNews.com) – The administration is exploring “alternatives” in response to the OPEC+ decision to cut oil production by two million barrels a day, President Biden said on Thursday, but when asked if Venezuela was among those alternatives he added only, “there’s a lot of alternatives; we haven’t made up our mind yet.”
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the administration was considering loosening sanctions on the Maduro regime to allow the U.S. oil company Chevron Corp. to resume working there.
Citing “people familiar with the proposal,” it said Nicolas Maduro would in return be expected to resume stalled talks with the Venezuelan opposition, to discuss the path towards holding free and fair presidential elections in 2024.
“What’s your reaction to the OPEC+ decision, Mr. President?” a reporter asked Biden as he prepared to leave the White House on Marine One
“Disappointment,” he replied. “And we’re looking at what alternatives we may have.”
Asked whether Venezuela was “one of those alternatives,” the president said, “There’s a lot of alternatives; we haven’t made up our mind yet.”
“What would Venezuela have to do in order for the U.S. to ease sanctions?” a reporter asked.
“A lot,” Biden said.
After the WSJ report appeared, National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement U.S. policy on Venezuela sanctions “remains unchanged.”
“We will continue to implement and enforce our Venezuela sanctions,” she said. “As we have previously made clear, we will review our sanctions policies in response to constructive steps by the Maduro regime to restore democracy in Venezuela and alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”
The prospect of the administration reaching a deal with an authoritarian socialist whose presidency the U.S. views as illegitimate in order to free up oil supplies is not new.
Last March U.S. officials paid a secret visit to Venezuela at a time when the administration was looking for alternative oil suppliers to help offset the effects on gas prices of banning Russian energy imports in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
“President Biden would rather enrich a murderous dictator than support drilling in America,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) tweeted in response to the latest report.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” commented Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.). “[Biden] gets shut down by Putin and Putin’s buddies, so he turns to Venezuela to beg for more oil. He would actually rather ease sanctions on an authoritarian regime than to increase energy production here at home. This is beyond infuriating.”
“Instead of increasing U.S. production, Joe Biden and administration officials begged Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Russia to produce more oil,” tweeted Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “These dictators ignored Biden’s pleas, slashed supply, and sent energy prices for Louisianians soaring.”
Democratic Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) also voiced opposition to any such deal, saying in a statement, “We have multiple strong actions that we can take right now to bring down gas costs without enriching corrupt and murderous dictators like Nicolás Maduro.”
Maduro’s ‘personal piggy bank’
The Trump administration in 2019 accused Maduro of electoral fraud and recognized National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as interim president, a stance also taken by more than 50 other countries. It also sanctioned Venezuela’s country’s oil industry.
With Venezuela’s severe economic and political crisis showing no sign of resolution the regime and opposition held several rounds of talks in Mexico last year, but the process stalled in October.
According to the WSJ report, it is those talks that the U.S. wants to Maduro to agree to return to, in return for an easing of sanctions.
The report also quoted a Latin America energy specialist as saying that underinvestment in the country’s oil fields would make it difficult for Venezuela to add significantly to output over the next two years, even with foreign companies’ help.
A vocal Maduro critic in Congress made a similar point last March, when questioning a senior State Department official about reports that the U.S. may ease oil sanctions on Caracas.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told undersecretary of state for political affairs Victoria Nuland that Venezuela’s oil sector was “in shambles after years of mismanagement [and] corruption.”
“Every informed person in the oil industry will tell you that if we were to buy all of it – and we can’t because some of it’s already contractually committed – it would be an insignificant impact on the U.S. economy,” he said.
What a U.S. policy shift on sanctions would do, however, would be to funnel millions of dollars into Maduro’s “personal piggy bank,” Rubio claimed.
In a prisoner exchange last week, the U.S. released two relatives of Maduro convicted on drug trafficking charges; and the regime freed seven Americans, including five oil executives accused of corruption and former U.S. Marine Matthew Heath, accused of terror offenses.
Still imprisoned in Venezuela are former Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry, arrested in 2020 in connection with an alleged plot to topple Maduro.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said on Twitter on Thursday that the regime was using them as “political pawns,” and criticized the administration’s approach.
“Biden inexplicably continues to dismantle pressure on the illegitimate Maduro regime, despite the regime’s imprisonment of Texan born veterans Luke Denman & Airan Berry,” Cruz said.
“The regime is using them as political pawns, denying them due process and callously using them in negotiations. The Biden admin should stop making concessions and impose pressure on the regime to secure their release.”