If a genie, or a demon, showed up and said “I’m granting you six months to improve your precarious life,” what would you do? That is more or less the dilemma the Venezuelan government faces today.
As everyone has read by now, the United States government provided a partial and time-limited (six months) suspension of the oil and gas sanctions levied against Venezuela. Other measures relating to the gold trade, banking and state airline Conviasa have been lifted with no expiration date. Still, yankee officials remind us every day that they will slap back these sanctions if the government does not “behave.”
In other words, there is sanctions relief in areas that Washington deems strategic, especially given the oil volatility caused by conflicts in Ukraine and in the Middle East, and also the significant pressure caused by the arrival of Venezuelan migrants at its southern border.
Surely if Venezuelans, the very ones who did not get a dime from the “humanitarian aid” loudly touted by the U.S. and the Juan Guaidó imaginary government, had ended up on someone else’s doorstep it would not be a problem. But alas, they dared to go north.
It is therefore no coincidence that even before the Barbados agreement (between the Maduro government and the opposition), the Biden administration had already announced migrant flights to Venezuela. “Deportations” according to U.S. authorities, “repatriations” in the Venezuelan official discourse, as each side handles its PR.
The migrant topic likewise saw Maduro attend a summit in Mexico. For the first time he put out a figure, claiming that 2.3 million Venezuelans had emigrated between 2015 and 2023. The number is way below the more than 7 million claimed by United Nations agencies.
Both countries share the interest of seeing Venezuelans returning, but there is still a long way to go before people can find the economic stability that they were searching for when they left. And the U.S. surely doesn’t help. We are still waiting for the U.S. $3 billion in frozen resources destined for urgent social fund. That deal is from a year ago, and all we hear are announcements that the funds’ release is “imminent.”
Furthermore, the Barbados accords also establish an “effort to preserve all of the Republic’s assets abroad,” though the details on how to actually achieve that are few and far between.
On the contrary, Venezuela is on the verge of losing its most valuable foreign asset. Citgo, still in the hands of the Venezuelan opposition, is undergoing an “auction” to satisfy more than 20 creditors that want to collect on more than $20 billion in debts owed by the Venezuelan state and state oil company PDVSA.
Beyond the silence of what is to be done about Citgo (assuming there is still anything to be done), there is an inexplicable complacency regarding the responsibilities Guaidó and his acolytes hold in this looming disaster.
Still, amidst it all, the “optimist” inside us hopes these agreements will allow the situation to improve. Even if we have to see the permission to sell oil at market prices, without discounts forced by sanctions, as a “prize” or a “victory” when it should have been our right all along.
The coercive measures are a weapon of blackmail, and so is their progressive removal. They force the government to “negotiate” with endless constraints, with new demands all the time. Finally, whatever “triumph” we score is determined by what is best for our enemy, its oil corporations, its geopolitical needs.
That’s when our “realist” side kicks in, knowing that the U.S. government, which also has a domestic constituency to please, will continue stretching the rope, for example demanding the reinstatement of candidates that have lobbied for sanctions or even outright foreign invasions. It may lead to a new deadlock.
With the Venezuelan presidential elections scheduled for the second semester of 2024, and the U.S. elections scheduled for November 5, 2024, everyone has a lot riding and will try to squeeze as much as possible out of this temporary truce.
In the upcoming six months, the Venezuelan government will have more room to maneuver. That is assuming that the extremist opposition headed by María Corina Machado does not set the streets on fire once more. But at the same time, we should not count on an endless money stream.
It is unlikely that PDVSA can ramp up its production quickly or significantly. Nevertheless, for years we’ve been exporting with discounts as high as 40 percent through shady intermediaries. Now we have a chance of exporting to Western customers at market prices. There are estimates that, even if production stays flat, oil revenues could grow by some $3.6 billion annually.
Now, what should the government do during this truce, this weird “honeymoon”? Where should it prioritize resource allocation? In my mind, there is a clear, if slow, path to choose. With elections on the horizon, that is not an obvious choice for the Maduro administration.
The country requires urgent investments in the oil industry, to beef up this undernourished golden goose and have it lay its proverbial eggs in better conditions and bigger quantities in the medium term. There is likewise a crying need to address public services (electricity, water, telecomms), as well as recover and stock dozens of hospitals and clinics that are really struggling. The same goes for schools. On this we have to add the immediate priority of raising teachers’ wages, extending to the public sector and retirees too. Additionally, public transportation needs attention.
Nevertheless, the “problem” is that, even with the necessary investment, these are long-term endeavors that will take their time before results are visible. In contrast, the government needs to rally and shore up popular support within the next year, give or take.
So I fear the priorities will be different: Christmas toys and hams, bonuses that stimulate fleeting consumption, subsidized cars and appliances. We may also see public works that are not a priority at all, like epic monuments or sports stadiums. Oh, and a lot of partying too.But again, we should have faith. Even the Vinotinto (Venezuela’s soccer team) has found unexpected success! We hope the government can take advantage of these six months of “relief” because, as Che Guevara said, imperialism cannot be trusted even one bit. The U.S. will harden sanctions again if it finds they can help accelerate “regime change.” Let us prepare for what we already know how to do: resist.
Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.