Biden special assistant: No US shift on policy towards Venezuela

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

US President Joe Biden. AP PHOTO

THE United States has not made any move to lift sanctions imposed on Venezuela in order to access that nation’s heavy crude oil reserves, in light of a ban on Russian heavy crude oil imports because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Special Assistant to US President Joe Biden and senior director for transborder at the National Security Council Katie Tobin made this comment during a phone news conference on Friday.

The briefing was held to discuss a meeting between Biden and Colombian President Ivan Duque on Thursday about recent developments in Venezuela.

Their meeting took place days after secret negotiations in Caracas between senior US officials and Venezuelan government representatives to arrange the release of American detainees Gustavo Cardenas and Jorge Alberto Fernandez.

Cardenas, an executive of the gas company Citgo, was arrested in Venezuela in 2017 and charged with corruption. Fernandez was arrested on separate charges last year.

On whether their release hinted at a possible easing or removal of sanctions imposed on Venezuela, Tobin said: “We made it clear yesterday that we were focused on bringing some of our US citizens home. That was the narrow and exclusive focus of that visit.”

She added, “In terms of other aspects of the (US-Venezuela) bilateral relationship, I can’t speak more to that.”

She said the US condemnation of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s actions to suppress democracy in Venezuela has not changed.

Tobin said there was no connection between the release of the US detainees and any speculation that the US was seeking to access Venezuelan oil, in light of the Ukrainian crisis.

Venezuela is Russia’s closest ally in Latin America and viewed as a major source of heavy crude oil, given the ban placed on Russia’s oil imports.

In August 2019, then US president President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan government, freezing its assets in the US and barring transactions with it. Those sanctions remain in effect.

During a virtual interview last February, the Prime Minister appealed to the Biden administration to help achieve a negotiated solution to the crisis in Venezuela and lift the sanctions the US imposed on it..

Recalling steps taken by TT to sign the Dragon gas deal with Venezuela in 2018, Rowley said Government was able to get Venezuela to agree to do something that not been done before, which is to export its gas.

“Everything was in place to have TT tap, for the international market and for its own development, gas supplies close to our border. But the sanctions on Venezuela have brought a halt to all of this.”

TT withdrew from the Dragon deal in October 2019. But last October, Energy Minister Stuart Young said Cabinet had approved a project to access natural gas reserves from the Manatee field, on TT’s side of its maritime border with Venezuela

Manatee is part of the larger Loran-Manatee gas field which straddles the TT-Venezuela maritime border. Approximately 30 per cent of the acreage lies within TT waters. The entire field is estimated to contain 10.25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Owing to sanctions imposed against Venezuela, Young said many of government’s critics claimed the two fields could not be de-coupled and Manatee’s gas would never be accessed. A production-sharing contract between Shell and the National Gas Company to access Manatee’s gas was signed last November.