The US government is set to ease some economic sanctions against Venezuela in a move intended to encourage the resumption of negotiations between the US-backed opposition and the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
The limited changes will allow Chevron Corp. to negotiate its license with the state-owned oil company PDVSA, but not to drill or export oil of Venezuelan origin, two senior US government officials told The Associated Press on Monday. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity as the official announcement had not been made.
Additionally, Carlos Erik Malpica-Flores – a former senior PDVSA official and nephew of Venezuela’s first lady – will be removed from the sanctioned list, they said.
The moves follow goodwill gestures from Maduro after a March meeting with representatives of President Joe Biden’s administration and a recent rally in Central America between US officials and the platform’s main opposition coalition. unitary form to discuss a way forward.
“These are things that (…) the United Platform negotiated and came to ask us to do so that they could return to the negotiating table,” said one of the officials.
Dozens of Venezuelans, including the country’s attorney general and the head of the prison system, and more than 140 entities, including the Central Bank of Venezuela, will remain under sanction. The Treasury Department will continue to prohibit transactions with the Venezuelan government and PDVSA in US financial markets.
Maduro himself is indicted in the United States, accused of conspiring “to flood the United States with cocaine” and using drug trafficking as a “weapon against America”.
The Venezuelan government suspended talks with the opposition in October after a key Maduro ally was extradited to the United States on charges of money laundering. Maduro then conditioned his return to the negotiating table on the release of businessman Alex Saab, extradited from the African nation of Cape Verde.
The negotiations took place in Mexico City under the leadership of Norwegian diplomats. The opposition and the Venezuelan government were to announce the resumption of negotiations on Tuesday.
California-based Chevron is the last major US oil company to do business in Venezuela, where it first invested in the 1920s. Its four joint ventures with PDVSA produced about 200,000 barrels per day in 2019, but the U.S. government ordered him in 2020 to cut production, and since then he has only been allowed to perform essential work on oil wells to preserve his assets and employment levels in Venezuela.
The change allows “Chevron to negotiate the terms of potential future activities in Venezuela,” a senior U.S. official told reporters on Tuesday. “He does not authorize entering into an agreement with PDVSA or any other activity involving PDVSA or … the Venezuelan oil sector. So basically what they are doing is just authorized to speak.”
Chevron did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. The company’s investments in Venezuela’s oil fields and machinery over the past century were worth an estimated $2.6 billion in 2020.
Venezuela sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, but its political upheaval and economic decline have driven more than 6 million people to migrate in recent years. About three-quarters of those who remain live on less than $1.90 a day, considered the international standard for extreme poverty, and many lack access to running water and electricity.
The United States and other countries withdrew recognition from Maduro after accusing him of rigging his 2018 re-election as president. In his place, they recognized Juan Guaidó, who was the head of the then opposition-dominated congress and who remains the leader of the Unified Platform.
Over the past five years, the United States has used punitive financial and personal sanctions, criminal indictments and support for underground groups in an unsuccessful campaign to remove Maduro and restore what it sees as Venezuela’s stolen democracy.
But in March, US officials traveled to Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, to meet Maduro after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended the world order and forced Washington to rethink its security priorities. national.
After the meeting, Maduro released two American prisoners and promised to resume negotiations with his opponents.
Senior US officials have said the government will calibrate the sanctions based on the concrete results of the negotiations and reimpose them if there is a backsliding in the dialogue process.
“What you see here is a very fine-tuned approach of establishing a clear roadmap in Venezuela, where the only path the regime has to US sanctions relief is through negotiation that leads to concrete results. “, one of the officials told reporters.
Malpica-Flores was formerly national treasurer and vice president of finance for PDVSA. He was individually sanctioned in 2017 as the United States targeted people associated with endemic corruption in the Venezuelan government.
His aunt, Cilia Flores, is one of the most influential members of the Venezuelan government and a constant presence at her husband’s side. Two other of his nephews are imprisoned in the United States for drug conspiracy.