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Surprise U.S. visit to Venezuela may bring oil help — but opposition says it's not worth it

Matias Delacroix
Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro

The U.S. could relax sanctions on Venezuelan oil to make up for its new embargo on Russian crude — but can it get reform from Venezuela's regime in return?

Over the weekend, top U.S. officials made a surprising visit to Caracas to meet with Venezuela’s authoritarian regime — but while the sit-down may yield some positive responses from that regime, the move is controversial.

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U.S. officials made the trip to talk about issues like the release of Americans held in prison in Venezuela — and energy security. President Biden’s now made the reason for that clear: Because the U.S. is banning Russian oil imports, it may want to lift sanctions on Venezuelan oil imports to compensate.

Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro looks willing to deal: He’s now offering to restart talks with the Venezuelan opposition on democratic election reforms. And on Tuesday his government said it released two, as yet unidentified American prisoners.

But because the U.S. does not recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate president — it recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó instead — Guaido’s team is critical of the Biden Administration’s move.

High-ranking opposition figures who asked not to identified told WLRN they feel substituting Venezuela’s oil for Russia’s would be helping one brutal dictatorship to penalize another. They also point out Maduro has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than any Latin American leader.

And they insist Venezuela’s oil industry is wrecked — producing only between 500,000 and 800,000 barrels a day — so the U.S. would get relatively little crude from any deal.

Either way, the Biden Administration says no oil agreement with Venezuela has been struck.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.