Venezuela’s government and the country’s opposition will resume long-stalled talks in Mexico on Saturday that offer the prospect of easing U.S. oil sanctions in exchange for progress toward free and fair elections.
Revolutionary Socialist President Nicolás Maduro has presided over an unprecedented economic collapse in the once-wealthy oil-exporting country, amid accusations of numerous human rights abuses. But it has survived Washington sanctions and a Western diplomatic boycott thanks to the support of Russia, Cuba, China, Turkey and Iran.
The new negotiations were announced on Thursday by Norway, which will act as a mediator. In Mexico, the two sides “sign a partial agreement on social issues,” the Foreign Ministry in Oslo said. social media. That deal is linked to a $3 billion fund from various frozen Venezuelan accounts managed by the United Nations for health, infrastructure and education needs, said a diplomat familiar with its contents.
Talks between the Caracas government and the opposition on a political settlement began in September 2021, but the Maduro government left just a month later after its key ally, Alex Saab, was extradited to the United States on money-laundering charges.
Phil Gunson, a senior analyst at the Caracas-based International Crisis Group, said that while a partial humanitarian agreement could be signed this weekend, a broader political agreement is still a long way off.
“The key question is whether the Maduro government is willing to open up the political system to freer and fairer elections, stop bending the rules in its favor and give the opposition a real chance,” he said.
Diplomats say Maduro has consolidated power since winning an election in 2018 the West says was rigged and has little incentive to make major concessions before he next faces voters in 2024. The opposition staged major protests in 2019, but its support has since declined as voters focus on survival amid the economic crisis.
Thursday’s announcement follows a recent diplomatic offensive by Maduro, who made a rare trip abroad this month to attend the COP27 climate summit in Egypt. On the sidelines, he exchanged words with French President Emmanuel Macron and US Climate Commissioner John Kerry. Days later, France hosted a roundtable with delegations from Maduro’s government and the opposition in Paris.
Colombia’s new leftist president, Gustavo Petro, also gave Maduro a diplomatic boost by restoring full diplomatic relations. The two leaders met in Caracas this month, Maduro’s first visit by a major Latin American leader since 2018. Venezuela is also hosting peace talks between Colombia and its largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army.
Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves, used to pump more than 3 million barrels a day. But years of mismanagement, U.S. sanctions and the expulsion of many foreign companies keep output well below 1 million barrels a day.
The resumption of talks and moves towards a political agreement could pave the way for the easing of US sanctions and allow US oil major Chevron to increase its activities at its Venezuelan joint ventures. American media reported this week. Chevron’s current permit, which is due for renewal on Dec. 1, allows it to maintain its Venezuelan assets but not to drill new wells.
“We will continue to conduct business within the framework of the current sanctions,” Chevron said in a statement. We have a constructive presence in Venezuela, where we have committed investments and a large workforce who depend on our presence.
Theodore Kahn, senior analyst at Control Risks in Bogotá, Colombia, said it was likely the United States would allow the company to restart production in the coming months. “The US is likely to take an iterative approach and use the possibility of further easing of sanctions as bargaining power.”