MEXICO CITY—Venezuela’s government and its opposition on Saturday agreed to create a UN-managed fund to finance health, food and education programs for the poor, while the Biden administration eased some oil sanctions on the country in an effort to boost the newly restarted talks between the sides.
The agreement signed in MexicoCity by representatives of PresidentNicolás Maduro and the opposition,including the faction backed bythe United States and led by JuanGuaidó, marked the resumption oflong-stalled negotiations meant tofind a common path out of the SouthAmerican country’s complex crisis.The US government, in response,agreed to allow oil giant Chevron topump Venezuelan oil.
The broad terms of the agreementfor the United Nations-managedsocial fund were announced bythe head of a group of Norwegiandiplomats guiding the negotiations.Venezuelan resources held in theinternational financial system willbe directed to the fund, though neitherside in the talks nor Norway’schief facilitator, Dag Nylander,said whether the US or Europeangovernments have agreed to allowfrozen assets to be funneled to thenew mechanism.
“In line with UN norms andprocedures, (the fund’s) objectivewould be to support the implementationof social protection measuresfor the Venezuelan people,” Nylandersaid. “The parties have identifieda set of resources belonging tothe Venezuelan state frozen in theinternational financial system towhich it is possible to progressivelyaccess, understanding the need toobtain the authorizations and approvals”from foreign institutionsand organizations.
A UN report published earlierthis year estimated humanitarianneeds at $795 million to help about5.2 million people in Venezuelathrough health, education, waterand sanitation, food and otherprojects.
Under President Donald Trump,the US ramped up economic sanctionsagainst Venezuela and grantedGuaidó authority to take controlof bank accounts that Maduro’s governmenthas in the Federal ReserveBank of New York or any other USinsuredbanks.
Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’sinterim president in January2019, arguing that his capacityas then-president of the country’sNational Assembly allowed him toform a transitional government becauseMaduro had been re-electedin a sham vote in late 2018. Dozensof countries, including the US, Canadaand Colombia, recognized himas Venezuela’s legitimate leader.European banks also hold Venezuelanfrozen assets.
About 7 million people have leftVenezuela amid a complex politicaland humanitarian crisis. Threequartersof those who remain inthe country live on less than $1.90a day, an international measure forextreme poverty.
About $3 billion is expected tobe progressively directed to thefund.
The dialogue formally beganin September 2021, but Maduro’sdelegates walked away from negotiationsin October 2021 afterbusinessman Alex Saab was extraditedon money laundering chargesfrom Cape Verde to the US. Maduroconditioned a resumption on therelease of Saab.
The Treasury Department onSaturday announced its decisionto allow California-based Chevronto resume “limited” energy productionin Venezuela after yearsof sanctions that have dramaticallycurtailed oil and gas profitsthat have flowed to Maduro’s government.The decision by the Biden administrationis the latest step inthe softening of hostile relationsbetween the US and Venezuelangovernments. It came weeks aftera major prisoner swap in whichVenezuela freed seven imprisonedAmericans in exchange for the USfreeing two nephews of Maduro’swife. Maduro released two otherAmericans in March.
Under the new policy, profitsfrom the sale of energy would bedirected to paying down debt owedto Chevron, rather than providingprofits to Venezuela’s state-run oilcompany Petroleos de VenezuelaS.A., commonly known as PDVSA.Treasury’s move “brings addedtransparency to the Venezuelanoil sector,” Chevron said in a statement.The company added that thedecision “means Chevron can nowcommercialize the oil that is currentlybeing produced from thecompany’s Joint Venture assets.We are determined to remain a constructivepresence in the countryand to continue supporting socialinvestment programs aimed at providinghumanitarian relief.”
A senior US administration official,briefing reporters about theUS action under the condition ofanonymity, said that easing thesanctions was not connected tothe administration’s efforts toboost global energy productionin the wake of Russia’s invasionof Ukraine and that the decisionwas not expected to impact globalenergy prices.
The agreement over the socialfund is part of a broad agenda thatis expected to advance in December,including the conditions for the presidentialelections that are supposedto take place in 2024, the releaseof political prisoners and the withdrawalof decisions that bar manypoliticians from running for office.The fund is a tangible resultfrom a process that many see withskepticism after negotiations mediatedby the international communityin previous years failed tobring the sides to an agreement.David Smilde, senior fellow atthe Washington Office on LatinAmerica and professor at TulaneUniversity, said that after the longbreak in negotiations, “it is up tothe two sides to show the exhaustedVenezuelan population that theycan actually address their needsand return the country to a functioningdemocracy.”
“However, this should be seennot as the end point of the negotiationsbut as a restart,” Smildesaid. “The more important issuesof justice and democracy are on theagenda for future meetings. Makingprogress will be difficult, but bothsides have much to gain by risingto the occasion.” Associated Press writerZeke Miller contributed to this report fromWashington.
Image credits: AP/Fernando Llano