Despite many competing disasters including the coronavirus, ending the current Venezuelan crisis must remain a priority, said panelists at a recent forum in the United States capital.
Not only is that South American nation’s economy in tatters, but current President Nicolás Maduro shows no sign of leaving even though the Trump administration recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
The administration recently announced sanctions against a subsidiary of Russian oil company Rosneft, alleging it was conspiring with the Venezuelan government-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to circumvent U.S. sanctions. The White House contends Maduro has been able to hold on to power with help from Russia and Rosneft, as well as China.
“The irony, in some ways, is that it was those [earlier] sanctions that gave Russia its current opening,” said Michael Camilleri, director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C., which sponsored the forum. Camilleri added that Rosneft has become a major purchaser of Venezuela’s oil. The company took two-thirds of Venezuela’s crude and diverted it to Asia. Camilleri said this has become essential to Venezuela’s evasion of U.S. oil sanctions.
“Venezuela’s oil industry was completely integrated with the United States for many, many years, and when the sanctions essentially cut off that relationship, it created an opening that Russia has been very astute and very strategic in exploiting, to the point where Rosneft is moving something like 70 percent of Venezuelan oil.”
U.S. sanctions clearly aren’t working, according to a new Inter-American Dialogue report.
Nonetheless, as polarized and unyielding as politics are in Venezuela today, leaders from different walks of life are prepared to pay the political price of advocating a negotiated solution to the country’s crisis despite inevitable trade-offs and compromises, said Miguel Pizarro, a Venezuelan National Assembly member and commissioner of the Guaidó government for the United Nations. He added that Venezuela needs an entirely different electoral process that is supported by the United States and other allies.
The U.S. is among 58 countries that recognize Guaidó as president. That international support is crucial, said Pizarro, but a legitimate presidential election is even more important.
“We know that the moment Venezuelans are able to vote, the day we have a real election, is the last day of Maduro and his gang in power,” Pizarro said, adding that the nearly five million Venezuelans living abroad should be able to participate in that vote. Florida has the largest population of Venezuelans living in the United States – 200,000, with a majority residing in South Florida.
South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat, supports the administration’s newest sanctions.
“It’s no secret that Maduro has been using petroleum profits to prop up his narco-authoritarian regime, and these types of sanctions have been necessary for a long time now,” she said in a statement. “It’s clear that the United States must develop a more comprehensive strategy on Venezuela that brings in our global allies to increase the effectiveness of our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts.”
In a press briefing this week at the State Department, Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative for Venezuela, said the sanctions against the Rosneft subsidiary are part of the Trump administration’s action against the Maduro administration.
“There will be more steps and further pressure in the coming weeks and months,” said Abrams. “Pressure will continue and will build steadily until a free and fair election. The president is determined to continue and strengthen his policy toward Venezuela.”