U.S. grants Chevron license to pump oil in Venezuela

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The Biden administration said on Saturday it would lift major oil sanctions on Venezuela, marking the first major break in the US embargo in years that could help ease global energy markets. .

Chevron, the only remaining US oil company in Venezuela, is in a partnership with the country’s state oil company but has been barred from operating there by sanctions. With a new license from the Department of the Treasury, we can continue to pump oil. The limited license states that all oil produced can only be exported to the United States. There is no profit to be made from its sale to Venezuelan state companies but it must be used to pay off Venezuelan creditors in the United States.

The move came as Nicolás Maduro’s government held its first official address to Venezuela’s opposition coalition in more than a year. Meeting in Mexico City on Saturday, the two sides agreed to ask the United Nations to freeze billions of dollars in government funds in foreign banks to ease Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. .

Negotiators also agreed to resume talks next month to discuss the 2024 “free” election calendar and human rights issues.

“We’ve made it clear for a long time that we believe the best solution in Venezuela is negotiation among Venezuelans,” said a senior Biden administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity under the law imposed by the White House. “To encourage this, we have also said we are prepared to provide targeted penalty relief.”

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The policy “remains open to further strengthening of sanctions,” the official said. “But any further action requires further concrete steps,” including the release of political prisoners and recognition of the legitimacy of the opposition, as well as unfettered access to humanitarian missions in of the United Nations.

The official denied reports that the administration was acting to ease oil shortages and high energy prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Allowing Chevron to start pumping oil from Venezuela is not something that will affect international oil prices. It’s really about Venezuela and the Venezuelan process,” the official said. , where the United States “supports a peaceful and negotiated outcome to the political, humanitarian and economic crisis.”

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, slightly more than Saudi Arabia, although it is more difficult to extract the thick oil. But its production declined due to government mismanagement even before Maduro took over in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chávez, a former military officer who was elected in 1998.

US sanctions on Venezuela that began 15 years ago for drug trafficking, corruption and human rights abuses have gradually increased, culminating in the administration of Donald Trump. Trump has stepped up measures against the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, SA or PDVSA; the central bank; and individuals and businesses. American oil companies were almost completely banned from doing business there.

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The sanctions are an attempt to curb global revenue from oil sales, and production has fallen sharply as black market exports have been sold mainly to China and India. When the Venezuelan opposition declared December 2018 elections illegal, it recognized Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition in parliament, as interim president. The United States quickly followed suit, recruiting dozens of other Latin American countries to do the same.

But economic and political pressures have had little effect on Maduro, and the Venezuelan people have borne the brunt of an economic and failed crackdown, leading millions to flee to neighboring countries. and also in the United States, where the number of Venezuelan refugees has increased.

President Biden came to office convinced that Trump’s Venezuela policy had failed, but he took some steps to reverse it, as powerful lawmakers vowed to block any move and the administration held out hope of winning the midterm votes of anti-Maduro Venezuelans and other Latin American countries. Florida. Just last summer, Biden called Guaidó to assure him of American approval and support, even with other governments and members of opposition groups. Guaido even distanced himself from him and called for negotiations with Maduro.

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The Republican election in Florida seems to have convinced the administration that it is time to move. Chevron officials say it will take some time to restart operations in Venezuela.

The change in sanctions appears to be a quick turn around the main complaint of US critics – the possibility that the Maduro government will benefit directly. Under the terms of the license, PDVSA is cut from any potential profits from the partnership with Chevron.

But Maduro will be no worse off than he is now, and sanctions violations could lead to others. For the administration, as long as negotiations with the opposition continue towards democratic elections and the improvement of human rights, the release of global energy supplies is seen as positive.

In an announcement Saturday about continuing talks in Mexico, Sen. Robert Menendez (DN.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime campaigner, said about Venezuela, but “if Maduro tries to use them again. In a bid to buy time to further strengthen its criminal dictatorship, the United States and its international partners must eliminate all of the sanctions that brought the regime to the negotiating table in the first place. .

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