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US and Venezuela Secretly Meet in Mexico as Oil Sanctions Deadline Nears

  • Maduro representatives met with Biden officials on Tuesday
  • US backs Colombia’s efforts to mediate with Venezuela
Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, right, and Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s president, shake hands at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. 

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, right, and Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s president, shake hands at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. Photographer: Matias Delacroix/Bloomberg

Bloomberg.com

US officials met secretly this week with members of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s administration to keep him engaged in negotiations over democratic reforms as a deadline nears to reinstate sanctions against the nation’s oil industry.

Representatives from Joe Biden’s administration and the Venezuelan government, including Daniel Erikson of the US National Security Council and Maduro’s head negotiator Jorge Rodríguez, met Tuesday in Mexico City to discuss electoral conditions, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The same day, Colombian President Gustavo Petro flew to Caracas with US backing, meeting with Maduro for nearly three hours before sitting down with opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales the following morning. The visit took place after Colombia took the unusual step of criticizing Maduro for blocking the participation of several opposition candidates in the July 28 election.

The US National Security Council declined to comment. Venezuela’s information ministry didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

On Thursday, Colombia’s acting Foreign Minister Luis Gilberto Murillo said Petro’s administration was in constant touch with the US regarding regional issues, including Venezuela. “We will always play a constructive role within the framework of diplomatic channels,” Murillo, Colombian ambassador to the US, said in a radio interview.

Maduro has been testing the limits of a US-backed agreement with the opposition last year. Maria Corina Machado, who won an October opposition primary, and her little-known substitute, Corina Yoris, have been barred from running in this year’s presidential race.

The repeated offenses have put Washington in an increasingly uncomfortable situation: whether to reimpose oil and gas sanctions during an election year in which migration has emerged as a key issue for US voters.

If the suspension is lifted, Venezuela could lose a total of $2 billion in oil revenues by the end of 2024, according to Luis Barcenas, the head of Caracas-based economic firm Ecoanalitica. From October until March, the license has enabled Maduro’s government to earn an additional $740 million in oil sales, according to Eduardo Fortuny, head of Dinamica Venezuela, a Caracas-based consultancy firm.

Zulia State Governor Rosales Enters Venezuelan Presidential Race, Splitting Opposition

Manuel Rosales, governor of Zulia state and opposition presidential candidate for A New Era party, speaks during a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela, on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.Photographer: Marina Calderon/Bloomberg

Murillo, who helped organize the meeting with Rosales, said on Thursday that he has also been speaking confidentially with Machado.

For months, the US has been urging Venezuela’s neighbors to pressure Maduro to fall back in line. Venezuela and US officials finally agreed to meet earlier this week. They had met Feb. 23, before the Maduro government called for early elections and prevented Machado and Yoris from registering in the vote.

Francisco Palmieri, chief of mission of the Venezuelan Affairs Unit, joined the US delegation, the people said. Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Jennifer Daskal also attended the meeting, according to one of the people. A press official for the Venezuelan Affairs Unit declined to comment on Palmieri’s participation.

Still, much about the election remains up in the air, including the participation of credible electoral observers, who are visiting Venezuela starting this week.

— With assistance from Fabiola Zerpa

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