CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro signaled an interest in improving relations with the U.S. following weekend talks with high-level American officials prompted in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and concerns of rising gas prices in the U.S.
Maduro, in a televised meeting with cabinet members late Monday, did not provide details of the discussions. A White House spokesperson did not provide details of the discussions.
But he seemed to indicate he was willing to accede to U.S. demands that he resume negotiations with his opponents as a first building block for any relief from U.S. sanctions that have been punishing the OPEC nation for years.
” We have already agreed to continue working on an agenda, issues that are of interest,” Maduro stated. It seemed very important for me to have the opportunity to discuss topics of greatest interest to Venezuelans and to the entire world face-to-face. And I ratify, as I said to the delegation, all our will to advance in an agenda of well-being and peace through diplomacy, respect and the highest hope for a better world.”
The discussions come a little more than three years after the U.S. broke off relations with Maduro and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader. After months of backchannel discussions between intermediaries (American lobbyists, Norwegian diplomats, and international oil executives), they met after the U.S. president Joe Biden had urged them to reexamine the unsuccessful “maximum pressure campaign” to overthrow Maduro that he took from Trump’s administration. But the urgency for risky outreach to Maduro, who was sanctioned in New York and indicted on drug trafficking charges in New York, grew after Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. The ensuing U.S. sanctions placed on Maduro made it more urgent. This will lead to increased global tensions as well as a reshuffle of international alliances. It also promises to increase gas prices and drive inflation to an all-time high. Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill expressed support last week for an American ban on Russian natural gas and oil imports, as a way to sanction President Vladimir Putin.
Venezuela is Putin’s top ally in Latin America and a top oil exporter. The possibility of its reentry to the U.S. oil markets may mitigate any negative consequences at the pumps from an oil embargo against Russia. But the discussions in Caracas were quickly condemned by top Democrat and Republic senators.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Biden’s efforts to unite the world against Putin “should not be undercut by propping up” Maduro, whose government is under investigation by the International Criminal Court for possible crimes against humanity committed against protesters in 2017. If the Biden administration facilitates the purchase of Venezuelan crude oil, then I worry that this could lead to a crisis in Latin America that will last a generation. “… As such, I would strongly oppose any action that fills the pockets of regime oligarchs with oil profits while Maduro continues to deprive Venezuelans of basic human rights, freedoms, and even food.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the architects of the regime change policy, also criticized the discussions, tweeting that they represent a “demoralizing betrayal of those who have risked everything to oppose Maduro.”
Venezuela has been going through a deep political, social and economic crisis for years, which critics attribute to a drop in oil production from rampant mismanagement by socialist governments. U.S. sanctions are largely blamed by the government.
Millions have been forced to flee because of poverty. The United Nations has estimated that more than 6 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, more than 10% of the population.
Maduro broke off dialogue with his opponents last fall after one of his key allies was extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. on money-laundering charges. The U.S.-backed opposition faction did not respond to Maduro’s remarks. He also called for reformatting of the Mexican dialogue which had been held under the supervision of Norwegian diplomats.
“We decided at this meeting to revive with great force the process for national dialogue with all of the country’s political, socio-economic, and religious factors,” Maduro stated. “… If we are asking for dialogue for the world, we have to set an example in the country.”
Goodman reported from Miami.