Monday, March 7, 2022

U.S. officials meet with Maduro (March 7, 2022)

Senior U.S. officials traveled to Venezuela and met with representatives of Nicolás Maduro's government on Saturday. U.S. and Venezuelan officials discussed the possibility of easing oil sanctions on Venezuela but made little progress toward a concrete deal, reports Reuters.

According to Reuters, the U.S. delegation was led by White House Latin America advisor Juan González, and Ambassador James Story, and that they met in Mirafolres palace with Maduro and Vice President Delcy Rodríguez.

In the talks, Washington sought guarantees of free presidential elections, broad reforms of Venezuela's oil industry to facilitate production and exports by foreign firms and the government's public condemnation of the Ukraine invasion. As a concession, U.S. officials were willing to consider temporarily allowing Venezuela to use the SWIFT system, reports Reuters. Maduro sought a total lifting of sanctions prohibiting Venezuela's oil exports, the removal of sanctions on him and other Venezuelan officials and the return to the state's control of PDVSA's U.S. subsidiary Citgo Petroleum

The the first such encounter in years, it was apparently part of a U.S. bid to challenge Russian influence with Venezuela. Washington believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin's allies in Latin America could become security threats if the standoff with Russia deepens, reports the New York Times. Some sources cited by NYT say Maduro’s team was eager to re-engage with the United States. Russia's role as a financial lifeline for the Maduro administration is under duress due to the international sanctions against Putin's government following his invasion of Ukraine.

Te U.S. trip to Caracas comes as negotiators for the Venezuelan opposition have been pushing the Biden administration for “carrots” that could draw Maduro back to talks in Mexico City, which were suspended in October, WOLA's Venezuela directo Geoff Ramsey, Venezuela told the Washington Post.

The U.S.’s precise objectives were unclear, although damaging Russian interests and multi-billion dollar investments in Venezuela was likely to be high on the list, Christopher Sabatini, a senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, told the Guardian. U.S. officials are also trying to secure the release of six former Citgo executives.

In recent weeks, former American lawmakers have pushed for the U.S. to ban Russian oil and gas exports while lifting restrictions on Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, reports the Washington Post. Chevron has also lobbied the administration to modify its license to accept and trade oil in Venezuela. The Biden administration is wary of the impact of rising oil prices on gasoline pumps at home, notes the Wall Street Journal.

Venezuela could also become a substitute oil source as sanctions affect Russian energy exports. Venezuela could boost its crude exports if Washington eases sanctions against it. Maduro has signaled openness to discussing oil deals with the U.S.: "Here lies the oil of Venezuela, which is available for whomever wants to produce and buy it, be it an investor from Asia, Europe or the United States," he said in a public speech on Thursday.

More on U.S.-Venezuela
  • The "tense relationship between the United States and Venezuela has been shaped by assumptions and ideas about U.S. dominance of the Western Hemisphere that date back centuries," writes Timothy M. Gill in the Washington Post.
News Briefs
  • Argentina’s government published on Friday the detailed plan for reducing its fiscal deficit and central bank financing as part of its pending US$45-billion deal with the International Monetary Fund. The agreement was sent to Congress on Friday, and lawmakers will vote on whether to ratify the pact sometime in the coming weeks, reports the BA Times. (See more details at Página 12.)

  • The opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition is reluctant to support the government's economic plan, but also wants to avoid a national default, reports Clarín. Lawmakers will likely ratify the agreement, but will seek to avoid paying political costs for unpopular economic measures.

  • A poll found that 60 percent of Argentines support the deal. (Infobae)

  • The Central Bank aims to boost its foreign reserves by at least US$5.8 billion this year and to gradually eliminate money printing to finance government spending, curbing it to zero by 2024. (Buenos Aires Times

  • The agreement also includes recognition that a central pillar of Argentina's growth plan is to reduce gender economic inequalities, which were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The agreement also notes that the strategy emphasizes strengthening care support systems.
  • Brazil is searching for new fertilizer suppliers as the war in Ukraine threatens to cut off shipments, with potential ripple effects on already high global food inflation, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See last Thursday's post.)

  • Arthur do Val, a São Paulo congressman and prominent member of Brazil's right-wing, is facing calls to step down after leaked audio messages reveal a succession of callous and misogynistic remarks he made about Ukrainian refugees during a purportedly humanitarian mission, reports the Guardian.

  • Café Apuí, a small coffee cooperative profiled by Americas Quarterly as an example of sustainable development in the Amazon, has been heavily damaged after a plane sprayed herbicide over its crops. Brazilian police are investigating whether the incident last month was an accident or an intentional attack. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Mexican journalist Juan Carlos Muñiz was killed on Friday in Zacatecas. He is the seventh press worker killed in the country so far this year. (Associated Press)

  • Weapons that are more likely to be found in war zones are increasingly being used by cartels, and Mexico’s military is responding with overwhelming firepower, reports InSight Crime.

  • More than two dozen people were injured in violent clashes between opposing soccer team fans in central Mexico on Saturday. (New York Times)
El Salvador
  • Around 2,000 women marched in San Salvador yesterday to demand the legalization of abortion and a decrease in femicides. El Salvador has had an outright ban on abortion since 1998, even in cases of rape or if the health of the woman or fetus are in danger, reports AFP.
  • A wooden boat carrying hundreds of Haitian migrants in a suspected human smuggling operation ran aground in shallow water in the Florida Keys. About 160 people swam ashore and many needed medical attention, reports the Associated Press.
Regional Relations
  • U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations Anne Witkowsky will travel to Haiti for talks with top officials and "a diverse array of Haitian stakeholders." (Caribbean Media Corporation)
  • A decision to restart operations at Guatemala's Fenix project, Central America’s largest nickel mines, is being questioned by campaigners, after an investigation appeared to show the company co-opted indigenous leaders and smeared potential opponents, reports the Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...Latin America Daily Briefing

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