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OPINION: Sanctions on Venezuela—a Gringo game

Lessening the cost of gasoline for the American consumers is the immediate motive


The US government announced on May 17 that it was loosening the sanctions on Venezuela. It is not because President Maduro has surrendered and bent to the American will. Nor because the US is moved to lessen the suffering of the Venezuelan people.

Lessening the cost of gasoline for the American consumers is the immediate motive. Otherwise, the angry American voters might punish the Democrats in the midterm elections coming up in November. The US wants Venezuela to increase production and exports of oil to fill the gap caused by the embargo on Russian oil. The long term motive is to increase the pain for Russia by reducing the pain of Venezuela a little.

Venezuela is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that could significantly increase production in the short and long term. And Venezuela has the largest crude reserves (298 billion barrels) in the world, much more than even Saudi Arabia(268 billion barrels), who has incidentally rebuffed the US request to increase production. Venezuela’s production has been crippled by US sanctions to about 374,000 barrels per day in 2020, down from the pre-sanction 3.5 million bpd.

The American oil company Chevron has told Biden administration that they could help double Venezuela’s roughly 800,000 barrels-a-day production within months, to replace the loss of about 700,000 barrels a day the US was importing from Russia before the Ukraine war.

So, the Biden administration is giving an exemption to Chevron from sanctions to work in Venezuela and increase production. Under the current sanctions, Chevron is prohibited from doing business with the Venezuelan government and is only allowed to carry out essential maintenance work in the country.

The US State Department has put out a usual spin on the story saying that they are relaxing the sanctions to help restart the stagnant talks between President Maduro and the self-proclaimed and American-anointed interim President Juan Guaido. The chances of success for these talks have now become less since the Maduro government has become stronger and Guaido has become weaker. So, there is no incentive for Maduro to show any flexibility towards Guaido.

Juan Guaido has completely lost his credibility. He has failed in his repeated promises and attempts to remove Maduro from power. He and his friends along with some American lawyers and lobbyists have helped themselves to hundreds of millions of dollars of the Venezuelan government funds in the US banks seized by the US government. He was involved in the foolish and failed attempt of a group of mercenaries to invade Venezuela and capture Maduro in 2019. Many senior opposition leaders of Venezuela have distanced themselves from Guaido.

Some countries which had recognised Guaido, under pressure from the US, have started dealing with the government of Maduro quietly. This includes the devious UK government which is refusing to release the Venezuelan gold from their treasury on the ground that they do not recognise the government of Maduro. The group of countries which recognised Guaido was called as “Lima Group” since the decision was taken during a meeting in Lima, (the capital of Peru) where they issued a Lima Declaration in August 2019. At that time Peru had a centre-right government. But now there is a new leftist government in Lima which has ditched Guaido and recognised President Maduro. Some other countries such as Argentina and Chile which had joined the Lima Group are now ruled by Leftist parties who have also reverted back to recognising Maduro. So the American scheme to make a regime change in Venezuela and impose Guaido as president is doomed to fail, for sure.

The Venezuelan economy, ruined partly by the US sanctions and partly by Venezuelan mismanagement, had suffered severe GDP contraction every year since 2014. But the economy has turned the corner now and the worst is over. IMF has projected a 1.5 per cent GDP growth for Venezuela in 2022. Even the hyper inflation is coming under control. It has come down from the peak of 65374 per cent in 2018 to 1588 per cent in 2021. The Maduro government has managed to increase even the oil production to 800,000 bpd in 2022 from 374,000 bpd in 2020.

The US is aware that Venezuela will not give in without clearance from the Cuban, who have coached the Venezuelans how to survive the Gringo sanctions and intimidations. President Maduro had his political education and training in Cuba when he was a young union leader. The Cubans are the veteran survivors of Gringo sanctions for the last sixty two years. Cuba is the victim of the oldest and most comprehensive US economic sanctions regime against any country in the world.

The Americans went beyond economic sanctions in Cuba. The CIA had made numerous attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. But he died a natural death at the ripe age of 90 in 2016 peacefully after outliving many American Presidents and CIA chiefs.

So the US knows that they need to show some gesture to the Cubans so that they would let the Venezuelans play ball with the Americans. The Biden administration has, therefore, announced on 16 May that it is loosening the sanctions on Cuba too. They are lessening some restrictions on flights to and from Cuba, family-reunification programme, consular services and visa processing, enabling more Cubans to either visit or join their families in the US.

In the United Nations, year after year, the overwhelming majority of the members of the General Assembly pass resolutions condemning the US embargo and declaring it as violation of the UN charter and international law. But the US is unashamed and immune to reason or international opinion.

The unilateral, illegitimate and inhuman sanctions on Cuba have not achieved any foreign policy goals of the US in the last six decades. So it is not going to be any different in the case of Venezuela. But the Gringos will continue their game of sanctions even when they know that they cannot win. From time to time, they will change the rules of the game and spin different stories to suit their needs and interests, as they are doing it in Venezuela.

The author is an expert in Latin American affairs.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK.


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