Hostage for oil from Venezuela?

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro speaks at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, February 16.


Federal Pictures / Agence France-Presse / Getty

Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro released two captured American prisoners on Tuesday, and it was a relief that their lengthy ordeal was over. But the release coincides with US diplomacy that seems to be aimed at easing US sanctions so the country can increase oil production. This would reward a rogue regime for taking Americans hostage with little energy gain.

Gustavo Cárdenas and Jorge Alberto Fernández were released after US diplomats met Mr. Maduro in Caracas on Saturday. Mr Cárdenas is a member of the Citgo Six who was arrested in 2017 on a business trip and has endured hellish conditions in prison.

Why were the other five also not released? The State Department did not say, but there is a possibility that Caracas is holding them back until the United States relaxes oil sanctions imposed by the United States in 2019.

The United States recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader. But the Biden diplomats only informed Mr. Guaidó that the US was negotiating with Mr. Maduro. This made Mr. Guaidó clear, and it was no coincidence that Mr. Maduro later boasted about the meeting in a speech. The meeting gave him the legitimacy he didn’t deserve.

The easing of sanctions could be next. The Biden administration will back oil producers everywhere but the US to increase global supply amid sanctions on Russian oil. Apparently begging Mr. Maduro, Iran and Saudi Arabia should encourage more oil production in the US and Canada.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez highlighted the Administration’s strategy: “The democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people, like the determination and courage of the Ukrainian people, are worth more than a few thousand barrels. oil”.

It’s unclear if Venezuela can even produce more oil quickly given how Mr. Maduro has used the national oil company as a political cash cow. Much of their oil now goes to China and Cuba, which has kept Mr. Maduro in power despite the objections of many. Russia is also a major military and security benefactor.

The small American strategists imagine that they can pull Venezuela off this axis, but that is unlikely. More likely, Mr. Maduro will yield to sanctions to cement his political power in exchange for the release of other Americans.

Other countries would be incentivized to take more Americans as bargaining chips. Leaving America’s oil producers behind makes more sense than easing global depression.

In 2013, it took three months for one million refugees to leave Syria. In 10 days, nearly 1.5 million refugees have left Ukraine, and the United Nations estimates the number could be as high as 4 million. Image: AFP / Getty Images Synthesis: Mark Kelly

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Appears in print March 10, 2022. Hostage for oil from Venezuela?

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