New Big Game: Can Venezuela Negotiate an End to Deadly US Sanctions?
By Ramzy Baroud
How the tables have turned. A high-level American delegation visited Venezuela on March 5, hoping to mend economic ties with Caracas. Venezuela, one of the world’s poorest countries in part because of US-Western sanctions, is, for once, in the driver’s seat, capable of mitigating a looming US energy crisis if dialogue with Washington keeps moving forward. .
Technically, Venezuela is not a poor country. In 1998 he has been one of the main members of OPEC, produce 3.5 million barrels of oil per day (bpd). Although Caracas failed to capitalize on its former oil boom by diversifying its oil-dependent economy, it was the combination of falling oil prices and US-imposed sanctions that brought it to its knees. this once relatively prosperous South American country.
In December 2018, former US President Donald Trump imposed harsh sanctions on Venezuela, cutting off the country’s oil imports. Although Caracas supplied the United States with around 200,000 bpd, the United States managed to quickly replace Venezuelan oil as crude oil prices hit as low as $40 a barrel.
Indeed, the timing of Trump’s decision was meant to ravage, if not entirely destroy, the Venezuelan economy in order to demand political concessions, or worse. The decision to further stifle Venezuela in December of that year was timely as the world oil crisis peaked in November.
Venezuela was already grappling with the United States punishmentsregional insulation, political instability, hyperinflation and, subsequently, extreme poverty. The move by the US government was therefore meant to be the final push that many US Republicans and some Democrats concluded would surely end the reign of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela has long accused the United States of pursuing regime change in Caracas, based on allegations that Maduro’s socialist government won the 2018 elections by fraud. And, just like that, it was determined that Juan Guaidò, then leader of the Venezuelan opposition and president of the National Assembly, should be installed as the country’s new president.
Since then, US foreign policy in South America has largely focused on isolating Venezuela and, by extension, weakening socialist governments in Cuba and elsewhere. In 2017, for example, the United States evacuated its embassy in the Cuban capital, Havana, saying its staff were target by “sonic attacks” – a supposed high frequency microwave radiation. Although such assertions have never been substantiated, they have allowed Washington to reverse the positive diplomatic gestures towards Cuba that have been made by the administration of Barack Obama, departure in 2016.
For years, inflation in Venezuela has continued to worsen, reaching 686.4% last year, according to statistics provided by Bloomberg. As a result, the majority of Venezuelans continue to live below the extreme poverty line.
The government in Caracas, however, somehow survived for reasons that differ depending on the political position of analysts. In Venezuela, much credit is given to the socialist values of the country, the resilience of the people and the Bolivarian Movement. Anti-Maduro forces in the United States, mostly concentrated in Florida, attribute Maduro’s survival to Washington’s lack of resolve. A third factor, often overlooked, is Russia.
In 2019, Russia sent hundreds of military specialists, technicians and soldiers in Caracas under various official explanations. The presence of the Russian military has helped allay fears that pro-Washington forces in Venezuela are plotting a military coup. Equally important, Russia’s strong trade ties, loans and more have helped help Venezuela escape complete bankruptcy and circumvent some of the US sanctions.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union decades ago, Russia has remained largely committed to the geopolitical legacy of the USSR. Moscow’s close relations with the socialist nations of South America testify to this. The United States, by contrast, has done little to redefine its troubled relationship with South America, as if little had changed since the days of hegemony. monroe doctrine of 1823.
Now it looks like the United States is about to pay for its past miscalculations. Unsurprisingly, the pro-Russian bloc in South America expresses strong solidarity with Moscow following the latter’s intervention in Ukraine and subsequent US and Western sanctions. Wary of the developing energy crisis and the danger of having Russian allies in a region largely dominated by the United States, Washington is trying, albeit clumsily, to reverse some of its earlier missteps. March 3, Washington decided to reopen its embassy in Havana and two days later an American delegation arrived in Venezuela.
Now that Russia’s moves in Eastern Europe have reignited the “Great Game” of an earlier era, Venezuela, Cuba and others, though thousands of miles away, find themselves at the heart of the new nascent Great Game. Although some in Washington are ready to reconsider their longstanding policy against the South American socialist bloc, the US mission is running into obstacles. Curiously, the biggest stumbling block on the American road to South America is not Caracas, Havana or even Moscow, but the powerful and influential lobbies and pressure groups in Washington and Florida.
A Republican senator, Rick Scott of Illinois, was cited in Politico as saying “the only thing the Biden admin should discuss with Maduro is the timing of his resignation.” Although Scott’s views are shared by many senior US officials, US policy this time around may have little impact on their country’s foreign policy. For once, the Venezuelan government has the stage.
– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out”. Dr. Baroud is a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net