Biden officials travel to Venezuela

 

Senior U.S. officials are traveling to Venezuela on Sunday to meet with the government of President Nicolás Maduro, according to people familiar with the matter.

 

The trip is the highest-level visit by Washington officials to Caracas in years. The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Maduro and closed its embassy in 2019.  The Trump administration then tried to topple Maduro by sanctioning Venezuelan oil exports and the country’s senior officials, and by recognizing the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as Venezuela’s lawful president.

 

Maduro responded to the sanctions by seeking economic and diplomatic help from Russia, as well as from Iran and China. Russian energy companies and banks have been instrumental in allowing Venezuela to continue exporting oil, the country’s biggest source of foreign currency, despite the sanctions, according to U.S. officials, Venezuelan officials and businessmen.

 

When the U.S. and its allies began considering sanctions on Russian oil and gas exports, prominent voices affiliated with both major American political parties pointed to Venezuela as a potential substitute.

 

Well-connected Republicans have been involved in talks about restarting the oil trade, including Scott Taylor, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who is working with Robert Stryk, a Washington lobbyist who briefly registered to represent Maduro’s regime in 2020 and remains in contact with people around it.

 

Taylor said he spoke on Friday night to a Venezuelan businessman who signaled that Maduro’s team was eager to reengage with the United States. “We should take this opportunity to achieve a diplomatic win and a wedge between Russia and Venezuela,” he said in a statement.

 

Trish Regan, a former Fox Business host and conservative media personality, called for an alliance with Venezuela to displace Russian oil from the U.S. market. “Venezuela has THE largest source of oil reserves, yet, we’re handing that to the Chinese and Russians?” she wrote on Twitter on Friday.

 

Maduro has spoken to Putin by telephone at least twice in the past month.

 

It is unclear how long the U.S. delegation, which includes senior officials from the State Department and the White House, will remain in Caracas or with whom the group will meet. Spokespeople for Maduro and for the State Department and the National Security Council in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

 

Before the U.S. imposed sanctions, Venezuela sent most of its oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast, whose refineries were built specifically to process Venezuela’s heavy grades of crude.

 

Maduro and other Russian allies in Latin America have begun to distance themselves. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba abstained or did not vote on the two resolutions proposed at the United Nations to condemn Russian aggression, and the leaders of Venezuela and Cuba have called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

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