Weekly Report - 30 June 2022 (WR-22-26)

VENEZUELA: US officials back in Caracas for secretive talks

US diplomatic engagement with Venezuela picked up again on 27 June, nearly three months after a visit to Caracas by a high-level delegation prompted speculation over a possible shift in US policy towards President Nicolás Maduro’s government. Officially, the trip was aimed at securing the release of US citizens detained in Venezuela, but the issue of sanctions and the suspended talks between the government and opposition are certain to have been discussed.

The previous visit by a US delegation to Venezuela in early March triggered a flurry of speculation over a potential rapprochement between the two countries. That trip was widely interpreted as a sign that the US was considering relaxing sanctions on the Venezuelan oil sector to ensure supply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine [WR-22-10].

Although the White House subsequently talked down the possibility of easing sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company Pdvsa, the talks opened a diplomatic door that had been slammed firmly shut under President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump (2017-2021). The return to Caracas of a delegation including the US special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, and the Colombia-based ambassador to Venezuela, James Story, demonstrated that, despite Venezuela’s exclusion from the US-hosted Summit of the Americas, Biden intends to maintain a degree of dialogue with the Venezuelan government.

Details on the delegation’s activities in Venezuela are scarce. The US government has not publicly commented on its engagement with the Maduro administration, and the only information on the meeting has come from Maduro himself, who said that US officials had met with the president of the national assembly, Jorge Rodríguez, to “continue discussions that began on 5 March and the bilateral agenda between the US and Venezuelan governments”.

Unnamed US officials cited by Reuters news agency said that the visit was aimed at securing the release of detained US nationals in Venezuela, after the previous bilateral talks in March resulted in the release of two detainees. An unnamed source from the Venezuelan opposition, cited by Spanish newswire Efe, said that Story had also met opposition leader Juan Guaidó in Caracas but provided no further details.

Open primaries

The opposition coalition Plataforma Unitaria de Venezuela (PUV) announced on 28 June that it will hold open primaries ahead of the 2024 presidential election, meaning that candidates from outside the PUV will be able to campaign for the opposition ticket. “We’re organising this primary so that all democrats who want a change in our country can participate,” said the PUV’s coordinator, Omar Barboza, adding that “we don’t want to have a monopoly” on efforts for democratic reform. Barboza said that the primary would be held in 2023, ahead of the election the following year.

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