Seeking to isolate Russia over the Ukraine crisis, the US is turning to a Venezuela government it earlier called ‘illegitimate’.
Before announcing a ban on Russian energy imports, the US tried to plug this hole by meeting with representatives from a government they don’t even officially recognize, Venezuela.
Senior State Department and White House officials met with President Nicolás Maduro’s government in Caracas over the weekend to discuss resuming oil imports. It was the highest level communication between Venezuela and the US since they severed diplomatic ties in 2019, after the administration of former President Donald Trump recognized opposition figure Juan Guaidó as the country’s “interim president.”
It is certainly a positive thing for both sides that there’s rapprochement. The sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the US and its allies had crippled the economy and spurred runaway inflation until recently. Venezuela had only in the past year managed to post decent economic growth, reined in inflation to the single digits and, in fact, is projected to out-compete peers in the region in the near future.
If economic activity resumes with the US this will likely help Venezuela’s economy even more – and, hopefully, the unfair and illegal sanctions may be dropped too.
But, at the same time, the reason for this rapprochement happening now obviously has to do with the US trying to insulate itself from an oil shortage after it decided to block shipments from Russia. The United States is also trying to isolate Moscow diplomatically, seeing Venezuela as one of Russia’s key partners in the Western Hemisphere. That’s an understandable assessment since Russia has been a lifeline for Venezuela as it grappled with devastating US sanctions.
It’s for this reason that Venezuelan officials would do well to not see this overture as anything other than ‘strictly business’. In its attempt to isolate Russia, Washington is turning to countries around the world trying to “make a case for the West” while also weakening Russian influence, including now in Latin America. It hopes to do this by providing incentives to woo Venezuela (and other Latin American countries) away from Moscow and back into its orbit.
This is not to say that Caracas shouldn’t try to restore diplomatic ties with Washington, increase communication and have fruitful economic relations. But joining in with Washington’s isolation of Russia now would be unwise since it’s clear that if the geopolitical circumstances were slightly different, the US would be continuing its siege of Venezuela and its economy.
To briefly put it, Washington is not a reliable partner for Caracas – or any other country in the region that might soon see an olive branch extended from the Biden administration. Washington imposed sanctions that have literally starved the Venezuelan people and set up a naval blockade off the country’s coast. In October 2021, the US arrested Colombian businessman and Venezuelan Special Envoy Alex Saab on alleged money laundering charges. But there’s little doubt that the real reason behind the persecution of a legally protected diplomat was Saab’s attempts to help Venezuela maintain normal trade relations and get around the US’ sanctions.
We may only imagine the hypocrisy if, for example, the US seeks to thaw relations with Cuba in a bid to isolate Russia. Washington has maintained a generation-spanning trade embargo on the Caribbean nation, attempted to invade it and, controversially, holds land on the Cuban island that it uses for its torture camp at Guantanamo Bay. All the while (ironically) accusing the Cuban government of human rights abuses.
Or, perhaps, we can point to Bolivia? The new Bolivian government is becoming more heavily aligned with countries like Russia and China, seeking an alternative to the US. That’s understandable since Washington supported an illegal coup in 2019 and the restoration of what some labeled as “fascism” for one horrifying year in the country, before Bolivians took back control of their democracy. If Washington tries “to make a case for the West” there, it is unlikely anyone would listen – and who could blame them?
None of these actions by the US in Venezuela, or other parts of the region, should be forgotten and I doubt they will be. On the other hand, it exposes the obvious hypocrisy and cynicism at the heart of American diplomacy.
Surely, Caracas is aware of the context of their meeting with Washington officials, e.g., US inflation at a historic high, a potential Europe-wide ground war and President Joe Biden’s dismal approval rating during a midterm election year that looks likely to be a complete massacre for the Democratic Party.
So desperate is Washington to both contain Russia and pad Biden’s election bid that the White House is now reaching out to a government they don’t even recognize as legitimate for help. And this government is headed by Nicolás Maduro, who alleged the US targeted him in an assasination plot.
This is clearly not a principled diplomatic corps and, while we may only hope that the two sides can agree on things that help both their countries, I also hope that Venezuelan and Latin American officials generally can see the obvious cynicism here.