Early signs of a renewed crackdown on opposition parties by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s government will test Washington’s resolve to keep oil sanctions against the South American Opec producer lifted.
A Venezuelan court on 30 October suspended the results of a presidential primary held by the government’s political opposition ahead of elections next year, which resulted in a resounding win by former lawmaker Maria Corina Machado.
The US administration on 18 October lifted sanctions on Venezuela’s oil and gas sector for a period of six months, conditioned on Maduro’s pledge to work with the opposition parties toward a free election next year. A deal between Maduro and the Unitary Platform opposition alliance called for carrying out primary elections and allowing international observers in next year’s election.
The US administration will snap back the sanctions “if the [Maduro)] regime has in fact violated the agreement that it reached,” US secretary of state Tony Blinken told a Senate panel today. “They’re not getting a free pass for actions that they take that are in contradiction to the commitments that they’ve made to move toward free and fair elections.”
Blinken would not say if the court action against Machado violates the agreement. US officials previously said that they view Machado’s eligibility to participate in next year’s election as a critical part of the conditions for future renewal of the sanctions waiver, which is set to expire on 18 April 2024. The Maduro government has disqualified Machado from running in national elections.
The latest twist in Venezuela’s domestic politics provides a reminder of how tenuous the relief of US sanctions is. In effect, the US has extracted a promise from Maduro to hold a free election next year that he could lose — a prospect he has resisted for years, before giving a half-hearted agreement earlier this month.
Oil markets are still trying to absorb Venezuela’s sudden return to the fold. US refiners and market analysts suggested that some of the 310,000 b/d of Venezuelan crude discharged in China last year could end up being diverted to its previous top destination, the US. Chevron was the only company allowed to import oil from Venezuela to the US since last November, and only from its joint ventures with state-owned PdV.
US crude imports from Venezuela averaged 120,000 b/d in January-August, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Source: Argus Media