The White House is considering removing sanctions from Venezuela’s energy sector amid the ongoing Ukraine crisis which has sparked higher oil prices, The Washington Post reported.
Several senior administration officials met with top Venezuelan government authorities Saturday to discuss the path forward if the U.S. were to remove the sanctions, according to the Post. The rare, in-person meeting with Venezuelan officials represented the highest-level visit to the authoritarian-run nation in years.
“It does seem like there’s a potential for things to shift, I think the question is what the U.S. is going to get in exchange,” Geoff Ramsey, the Venezuela director at the Washington Office on Latin America, told the Post. “It’s very unlikely that senior Biden officials would go to Caracas and meet with Maduro and be able to sell a major policy shift like this if they were to come home empty-handed.”
The surprise meeting occurred as Russia pressed forward with its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, injecting uncertainty into global energy markets. Crude oil prices worldwide have surged in recent weeks as investors have balked at supply uncertainty.
Dozens of bicameral Republican and Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, have pushed the Biden administration to ban Russian oil imports. While the White House suggested an import ban would harm U.S. consumers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the U.S. was engaged in “very active discussions” with allies about implementing such a ban.
However, experts doubted whether a policy replacing Russian oil with Venezuelan supply would have an easing effect on pump prices.
“This won’t help ease the pain at the pump for American consumers,” Francisco Monaldi, the director of the Rice University Baker Institute’s Latin America Energy Program, told The Wall Street Journal.
Monaldi added that Venezuela’s production would be a “drop in the bucket in the world oil market,” according to the WSJ.
While the U.S. has pursued an aggressive sanctions regime against Venezuela for more than 15 years, in 2019, the Trump administration imposed a fresh swath of restrictions on the South American nation’s oil industry to renew pressure on President Nicolás Maduro, a 2021 report from the Congressional Research Service showed. Trump administration White House officials said the sanctions would reduce Venezuela’s oil exports by $11 billion.
As a result of the sanctions, the U.S. hasn’t imported oil from Venezuela since May 2019, according to government data. The U.S. imported about 462,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela in 2018, and it imported 670,000 barrels per day it imported from Russia in 2021.
Venezuela consistently ranks as one of the least “free” countries in the world, according to Freedom House.
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