Above Photo: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro speaks with his Russian counterpart during an official visit to Moscow in 2018. Prensa Presidencial.
Washington is seeking to isolate Moscow from its allies in Latin America but Venezuela has maintained support for Russia.
Mexico City, Mexico – A high-level United States (US) government delegation that visited Venezuela on Saturday failed to produce an agreement with the government of Nicolás Maduro.
News of the delegation was first broken by the New York Times, which described the trip as the highest-level visit by US officials in years. Outlets subsequently reported that no agreement was reached. Caracas had not publicly commented on the meeting at the time of writing.
According to Reuters, the US team was led by White House Latin America adviser Juan González and made “maximalist” demands concerning electoral guarantees. Citing three people familiar with the matter, Reuters reported that the US was seeking new presidential elections, a larger participation of foreign private capital in Venezuela’s oil industry and a public condemnation of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. The Biden administration representatives reportedly offered Venezuela a temporary return to the SWIFT financial transaction system.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, who directly participated in the meeting, instead demanded broader sanctions relief and the return of foreign assets such as oil subsidiary CITGO. US officials reportedly brought up the cases of US citizens jailed in Venezuela, including six oil executives imprisoned for corruption and two former Green Berets who took part in a failed coup effort.
The meeting in Caracas was the latest US effort to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin from his allies in the region. US officials told the Times that Washington views Russia’s Latin American allies as a potential “security threat” should the tensions continue to escalate in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which has ratcheted up conflict between the US and Russia.
Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with the US in 2019 after the latter recognized opposition figure Juan Guaidó as “interim president.” The US and its allies refused to recognize the results of the 2018 election that saw Maduro reelected to a six-year term. Washington then proceeded to engage in and support a series of unsuccessful coup plots, ultimately failing to oust Maduro from power.
US strategy toward Venezuela has more recently been focused on isolating Maduro, imposing crippling sanctions on the country’s energy sector and seizing, together with its allies, the country’s assets abroad. In public statements, the Biden administration has expressed its unwillingness to seriously negotiate with Caracas absent new elections.
Nonetheless, due to the failure of the US to successfully install Guaidó as an authority with any real power inside Venezuela, Caracas and Washington have maintained back-channel communications despite the lack of formal diplomatic relations. Guaidó, despite being recognized by the US as the country’s president, was only informed of the high-level delegation the morning of the meeting.
Venezuelan geopolitical analyst Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein told Venezuelanalysis that the leak of the news of the visit of senior US officials was motivated by an effort to drive a wedge between Caracas and Moscow and leave the impression that there was a “chill” in relations between the two countries.
Rodríguez maintained that Washington and Caracas would nonetheless leave the door open to dialogue.
“I believe that there will be continued attempts at rapprochement, especially because the Mexican [dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition] was exhausted,” he said. “The Mexico talks were totally absurd since the opposition was being directed from within the United States, any step they took had to be consulted with Washington. In that sense it is much more feasible for the United States to negotiate directly with Venezuela.”
President Maduro has repeatedly expressed a willingness to negotiate an end to US-led sanctions on the country. The lack of a deal stemming from the visit by the senior-level delegation suggests Venezuela did not find it to be a workable proposal. Reuters reported that US officials agreed to a follow-up meeting.
It would take a considerable reversal of US policy toward the Caribbean nation to get the country to walk away from its Russian ally. Relations between the two countries have only grown in light of US efforts to isolate Caracas. Russian assistance has played an important role in Venezuela’s efforts to attend to the economic crisis in the country, providing support and expertise to the country’s key industries as well as steady investment in Venezuela’s energy sector.
Venezuela likewise recently strengthened its ties with Russia following a visit by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov in February.
Caracas has called for a “peaceful resolution” to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine but has stopped short of condemning the Russian military operation. Venezuela did not vote in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s resolution concerning the Russian offensive in Ukraine. The country’s voting rights have been suspended as a result of unpaid UN membership dues due the impact of sanctions.
In light of coercive measures applied on Russia by the US and the European Union, Maduro has insisted that Venezuela will maintain its commercial relations with the Eurasian nation.
The Venezuelan leader also spoke directly by phone with Putin last week, with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reporting that the Venezuelan president expressed his “firm support” for Russia and condemned destabilization efforts by the US and NATO. Maduro has publicly called NATO’s handling of the Minsk Agreements a “mockery” and argued that their “derailment” constituted a violation of international law.
The Russian ambassador in Caracas Sergey Melik was invited to greet the opening 5th Congress of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, held this Saturday, and was met with strong applause from the delegates.