July 19, 2024

Biden shamefully selling out democracy in Venezuela for oil


The Biden team is selling out Venezuela’s democratic opposition.

After months of secret negotiations, in October the Biden administration suspended many US sanctions on the South American dictatorship.

The oil and gas sector and gold mining, both critical to regime revenue, were freed from sanctions by a license to operate for an initial six months.

There were two goals, Team Biden said: to free American hostages the Maduro regime holds and to induce the regime to allow free elections in 2024.

The hostage exchanges have taken place.

Venezuela released several Americans it had unjustly jailed.

The Biden administration released Alex Saab, a key money launderer for the regime who had been captured in Cape Verde (while in transit to Iran) in 2020 and extradited to the United States.

Saab was charged with stealing hundreds of millions of dollars.

After months of secret negotiations, the Biden administration suspended many US sanctions in Venezuela in October. ZUMAPRESS.com

President Biden granted him clemency, arguing that freeing the Americans was worth the deal.

But the administration has simply abandoned the other part of the sanctions suspension: moving toward free elections and restoring democracy in Venezuela.

When the democratic opposition held its primaries last year, Maria Corina Machado won a huge landslide and should therefore be the opposition candidate.

If there were a free election this year, most observers believe she would win — handily.

One poll found support for President Nicolas Maduro at 17%, while Machado had 60%.

One small catch: There will not be a free election.

The regime continues to say she is ineligible to run, barring her in June from public office for 15 years.

The State Department said at the time the “decision to disqualify Maria Corina Machado from participating in the electoral process deprives the Venezuelan people of basic political rights.”

When lifting sanctions in October, the State Department said it had “conveyed our expectation and understanding that Venezuela will take the following steps before the end of November,” and one was that Machado had to be allowed to run.

Venezuela must “define a specific timeline and process for the expedited reinstatement of all candidates. All who want to run for President should be allowed the opportunity, and are entitled to a level electoral playing field.”

Then came the threat: “Failure to abide by the terms of this arrangement will lead the United States to reverse steps we have taken” — “The license will be renewed only if Venezuela meets its commitments under the electoral roadmap.”

The regime has taken no steps toward free elections and keeps repeating that Machado can’t run, but the sanctions haven’t been reinstated.

For democratic activists who oppose the dictatorship, the meaning is clear: This was an idle threat.

US citizens imprisoned in Venezuela pose for pictures upon arrival at Joint Base San Antonio Kelly Annex in San Antonio, Texas on December 20, 2023.
The Biden administration’s two main goals are to free American hostages Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro’s regime holds and allow free elections in 2024 in Venezuela. AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is allowing Chevron and European oil companies to sign new contracts with Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, and seems to have zero appetite for reversing course.

The voice of Venezuelan democrats has no effect on Biden Democrats in Washington.

An analysis in Forbes magazine put it squarely: “When it comes down to the well-being of ordinary Venezuelans, Washington DC is taking its time. It was much faster, however, in granting Chevron a license to resume operations in Venezuela. Business trumps humanitarianism.”

The analysis concluded, “The Biden administration needs Venezuelan oil on the market.”

Soon after Biden entered office, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared, “The United States is placing democracy and human rights at the center of our foreign policy.”

But it looks like oil has replaced it.

There is a great irony here because Biden officials in the early days liked to contrast their claim to support democracy with what they saw as the Trump administration’s abandonment of the cause.

Yet in Venezuela, the Trump administration imposed sanctions and strongly backed the democratic opposition.

When European oil companies were pressured to lift oil sanctions, they were rebuffed.

When Chevron pressed even harder, its CEO was told that lifting sanctions was not in our national interest.

The Biden administration is forgetting its promises to reimpose sanctions if there isn’t a truly free election.

There is another factor besides oil that may explain Biden’s policy: the migration crisis at our southern border.

Biden administration officials argue that “root causes” are one of the main drivers of the flood of asylum seekers, many of whom are Venezuelan.

The White House seems to think that lifting oil sanctions will help the Venezuelan economy, so Venezuelans will stay home.

They won’t — both because the Maduro regime will steal the oil revenue from Venezuela’s citizens and because Venezuelans are fleeing not only poverty but brutal oppression.

Maduro can see what’s happening.

He probably figures that if he continues to bar Machado from running but allows some much less popular opposition figure on the ballot, Washington will swallow it and the sanctions will stay off.

The very sad thing for democrats in Venezuela is that looking at the administration’s record so far, he may well be right.

Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, served as special representative for Venezuela in 2019-2021.

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