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  • Writer's pictureThe Red Line

Episode 88. Venezuela's Return to the West?

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With demand for oil skyrocketing, the US are now reconsidering the usefulness of Venezuela's massive natural oil reserves. To meet the demand in the market, some in Washington are now even going as far as to propose the beginning of the normalisation of relations between Washington and Venezuela, with oil company Chevron already beginning operations inside the country as a test case.

If the process goes ahead, it may signal an end to the US policy of "maximum pressure" throughout the region and the beginning of a region-wide policy shift. But how far will either side be willing to take these talks, and how will Venezuela's current allies in China and Russia react to these developments? We ask our panel of experts.


Episode Overview:

Part 1: Never Let a Crisis Go To Waste (4:13)

  • Phil Gunson begins our conversation with the context in which Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro came to power in 2013, following the death of Hugo Chavez, and the economic problems that have faced Venezuela over the last decade.

  • Gunson explains how Venezuela's oil industry eroded following nationalisation, with state oil company PDVSA suffering from management by political appointments and biting sanctions preventing the sale of oil to preferred customers. We explore the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on Venezuela's oil exports.

  • We conclude with a discussion about the effectiveness of the US policy of "maximum pressure" upon the Maduro Administration following a disputed election in 2018, noting the evolving bilateral relations between Venezuela and its Latin American neighbours and the changing domestic economy.

Part 2: Dollarising a Disaster (27:33)

  • Ben Norton cautions against overstating the state of any thaw in US-Venezuelan relations, noting the ongoing 'Cuban-style' embargo placed on the Venezuelan economy. We unpack the motivation of each side, noting the US desire to lower oil prices back to pre-Ukraine levels and Venezuelan talks with the opposition about the possibility of a future election.

  • We unpack the likelihood that US negotiations for lifting sanctions will be purely economic or if there will be a political dimension that seeks to guarantees free and open elections in the future. We note the role of Iran in supporting Venezuela, including significant assistance to Caracas to improve their oil and agricultural industries.

  • We discuss China's loans and economic support to Venezuela and its role in the geopolitical calculus playing out between rivals. We then pivot to the currency substitution and monetary reality of the Venezuelan economy, noting the use of US dollars and Chinese Yuan, as well as alternative digital currency and electronic banking options.

  • We conclude with forecasting the appetite for foreign companies to operate in Venezuela if sanctions lift, noting the strong state control preferred by the Maduro Administration.

Part 3: What's Thicker? Oil or Ideology? (46:24)

  • Chris Sabatini notes that while there has been stablisation of the Venezuelan economy, sanctions combined with difficulties arising from the conflict in Ukraine have pushed the Maduro Administration to the negotiation table.

  • The arrival of Chevron operating within Venezuela creates a crossroads, with Caracas being caught between the US and China as preferred partners.

  • We discuss Brazil and Columbia's preferences for Venezuela's future, noting its previous regional influence and their own geopolitical aims in the region, as well as the tensions between these competing interests.

  • Our discussion moves towards the muted reaction to the easing of sanctions so far in the US, noting the decreasing political influence of the US state of Florida over Caribbean and Latin American relations, and what that might also mean for the future of US-Cuban relations.

  • We also attempt to predict what a future election within Venezuela in 2024 might look like, noting the slow erosion of support for the interim government in exile led by Juan Guaidó.


Episode Guests:

Phil Gunson

  • Andes Project Senior Analyst at Crisis Group

  • He conducts advocacy on political issues in the Andes region, focusing primarily on the Venezuelan political situation

  • He has spent 40 years reporting on Latin America for a wide variety of news media, including the BBC World Service, The Guardian, Newsweek, The Miami Herald and The Economist

Ben Norton

  • Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Geopolitical Economy Report, an independent news website dedicated to publishing original journalism and analysis.

  • Assistant Editor of The Grayzone, and the producer and co-host of the Moderate Rebels podcast

  • He has appeared as a journanlist and correspondent on networks including

  • Sky News, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, El Financiero Bloomberg, Al Mayadeen, teleSUR, RT, TRT World, CGTN, Press TV, HispanTV, Sin Censura

Chris Sabatini

  • Senior Research Fellow for Latin America, US and the Americas Programme at Chatham House

  • Founder of Americas Quarterly

  • Serves on Harvard University’s LASPAU, the Advisory Committee for Human Rights Watch’s Americas Division and of the Inter-American Foundation.


The Red Line's Venezuela Reading List:

We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand the geopolitics of Venezuela.


Reclaiming Human Rights in a Changing World Order

Chris Sabatini

Things Are Never So Bad That They Can't Get Worse: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela

William Neuman

Crude Nation: How Oil Riches Ruined Venezuela

Raúl Gallegos


For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:

This episode is dedicated to our Patreon members - Logan Rosenmayer, Michael Henson, Drew Black, Edoardo Troina, Kieran Hardiman, Hue Mann, Kevin Pierce and Chris Mastroianni.



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