Latin America swings toward EU camp on Venezuela

  • : Crude oil, Oil products
  • 21/02/02

Chile and the Dominican Republic are the latest Latin American countries to join the EU-led International Contact Group (ICG) on Venezuela, a move that highlights Latin America's growing distance from US sanctions-based policy.

Chile's foreign minister Andres Allamand cited the need for "convergence" of international groups in the face of Venezuela's "grave humanitarian, political and institutional crisis" and urged all parties to advance a political transition and convene internationally monitored presidential and parliamentary elections as soon as possible.

Chile was among the Latin American countries that initially adopted a more vocal stance against Caracas starting in 2019, in line with the US and its closest regional ally Colombia.President Sebastian Piñera joined Colombian president Ivan Duque in the Colombian border city of Cucuta in February 2019 for an ill-fated US-coordinated campaign to introduce humanitarian aid across the border.

Along with Peru, Argentina and Brazil, Chile and Colombia had been among the core members of the Lima Group of Latin American countries and Canada that sought to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down.

Two years later, Maduro remains in power and domestic and international support for US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido has dwindled. More than 5mn Venezuelans have fled to Colombia and countries across the region. Venezuela's oil industry is battered but still producing and exporting oil, mostly to China.

Chile and the Dominican Republic participated in an ICG ministerial meeting as full members today, although Santiago said it would remain in the Lima Group as well. "ICG members reiterate that the only way out of the crisis is to resume political negotiations promptly and to urgently establish an inclusive Venezuelan-led dialogue and transition process leading to credible, inclusive and transparent elections in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the laws of Venezuela," the ICG said in a communique after the meeting.

In another sign of fading support for Guaido, the EU-led group said it expected "difficult compromises" from the opposition as it joins a broad dialogue with the Maduro government.

Other ICG members cited by Chile today are Argentina, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Portugal, Spain, Uruguay, Italy, Sweden, France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands.

The ICG is distrusted by prominent members of Venezuela's US diaspora.

"The so called International Contact Group fails again to understand the problem devastating Venezuela," Washington-based consultant Pedro Mario Burelli said on social media in response to today's ICG statement. "The country is facing a criminal event, NOT a political crisis. An illegal & cruel regime, hell-bent on evading Justice, has kidnapped an entire nation."

Burelli was an independent board member of Venezuela's state-owned oil company PdV in the mid-1990s.

Sanctions tinkering

In Washington, the new US administration of President Joe Biden is expected to maintain the Venezuela oil and financial sanctions framework for now, with some adjustments aimed at easing the Opec country's humanitarian plight. Among the potential changes are a restoration of crude-for-diesel swaps by non-US companies and more flexible waiver terms for Chevron and a handful of US services companies that remain in Venezuela.

Biden's approach to Venezuela will focus "on addressing the humanitarian situation, providing support to the Venezuelan people, and reinvigorating multilateral diplomacy to press for a democratic outcome," the White House said last week. But Venezuela barely features on the administration's priorities list two weeks into its tenure, a sharp reversal from Venezuela-focused efforts by the former administration.

Today, the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) that administers sanctions clarified that operations involving Venezuelan government-controlled ports agency Inea are authorized, a move apparently aimed at providing further assurance to companies that still have business inside the Opec country.

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