By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
Delcy Rodríguez, Venezuela’s vice-dictator, warned Washington on Jan. 30 that her government will refuse to accept deported migrants if the U.S. reimposes oil and gas sanctions: “If they make the mistake of intensifying the economic aggression against Venezuela . . . repatriation flights for Venezuelan migrants will be immediately revoked as of Feb. 13.”
This is an act of desperation on the part of an illegitimate government and it’s been complemented by Venezuelan saber-rattling on the Guyanese border. Caracas is feeling the heat from the international community—including left-of-center democracies—to hold a free and fair election this year. Unfortunately, given President Biden’s record of giving in to criminal regimes, there’s reason to fear that the threats will achieve their intended outcome of more sanctions relief. But there’s also a slim margin of hope that they won’t. It depends on whether Mr. Biden is serious about democracy for Venezuela.
Mr. Biden’s timid foreign policy telegraphs trepidation to despots who want to harm America. The president’s January 2022 suggestion that Russia might get away with a “minor incursion” into Ukraine is one example. More recently, there’s his unwillingness to respond effectively to Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. assets. Isolationist Republicans are part of the problem.
Russia, China and Iran also smell U.S. weakness in the Western Hemisphere. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping hold sway over Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro. The government promised a competitive vote in 2024 when it signed an October agreement—brokered by Norway—with the opposition at a meeting in Barbados. No one thought Venezuela was serious, except perhaps the Biden administration. The ink wasn’t dry when the U.S. announced that for six months it would lift sanctions on oil and gas investments and sales from Venezuela. Those sanctions had been in place since the Trump administration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave Caracas until the end of November to set a “timeline” to reinstate banned presidential candidates and free political prisoners.
When Venezuela blew through that deadline, the U.S. gave it a pass. Days of delay turned into weeks and months. In January the U.S. got its answer: Mr. Maduro’s hand-picked Supreme Court disqualified popular opposition candidate Maria Corina Machado with absurd allegations of conspiracy against her country. The regime has also arrested members of her team.
Ms. Machado won the opposition’s primary last year with more than 90% of the vote and is the heavy favorite to beat Mr. Maduro in a level contest. If the regime can eliminate her candidacy, it hopes a multicandidate field will emerge, fragmenting the opposition. This is an age-old tyrant’s trick to hold on to power while claiming victory at the ballot box. Meantime, Venezuela hasn’t yet issued a campaign calendar. Until it does, international observer teams are unable to organize their missions or launch exploratory visits ahead of the vote.
The good news is that the State Department said in January it is prepared to reimpose the sanctions in April on Venezuelan oil and gas. The bad news is that it said this will happen “absent progress” by Caracas toward a legitimate election. Those words, coming from a U.S. administration that has a history of making excuses for the regime, don’t boost confidence.
Caracas is so used to bullying Mr. Biden and watching him back down that it is trying again with Ms. Rodríguez’s warning on migrants. But blocking entry of Venezuelans into their own country would be a violation of international law. It might give Mr. Maduro a brief feeling of righteous revenge but that’s unlikely to last if the U.S. responds by ending flights between American and Venezuelan airports. Mr. Maduro’s self-imposed isolation from the largest economy in the world would reaffirm Venezuela’s reputation as a rogue state. The right response is to call his bluff.
If Mr. Biden sees an opportunity to throw some crumbs to Washington oil lobbyists in an election year, he could renew the sanctions relief and blame Ms. Rodríguez. But he’d be going against world opinion. On Thursday the European Parliament passed a resolution (446-21) saying it won’t recognize the election if Ms. Machado isn’t allowed to run. The European Union also wants sanctions on Venezuela’s Supreme Court and its security forces for abuses of power against government opponents.
Last week the website of Brazil’s pro-Cuba President Inácio Luiz “Lula” da Silva announced Brazil’s continuing support for implementing the Barbados agreement. Even Juan González, President Biden’s lefty National Security Council adviser for Latin America, said last week that “all candidates must be eligible to compete.” He added that Ms. Machado is “the opposition candidate.”
Yet if that generated any optimism among the Venezuelan opposition it evaporated when Mr. González suggested from Bogotá that Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a former left-wing terrorist, play the role of mediator between the Venezuelan dictatorship and the opposition. Apparently Raúl Castro isn’t available.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes «The Americas,» a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis-based Liberty Fund. EnergiesNet.com does not necessarily share these views.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), on February 11, 2024. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.
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EnergiesNet.com 02 11 2024
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