A senior Biden Administration official said the White House has not held discussions about easing oil sanctions on Venezuela, after a rare visit by an American delegation to Caracas on Saturday prompted speculation the U.S. might lift its embargo to offset the ban of Russian oil.
The official, who was not named, denied Wednesday that an American delegation traveled to Venezuela to discuss oil, according to a readout of comments the White House provided Thursday.
It was the first official U.S. diplomatic visit to the country in years, after the U.S. closed its Venezuelan embassy and withdrew diplomats in 2019 in response to allegations that President Nicolas Maduro’s re-election was the result of fraud.
American officials met with Maduro over the weekend, even though the U.S. does not consider him the legitimate president of the country.
Details of the meeting remain largely unknown, but it was quickly followed by Venezuela moving to release two American prisoners this week.
“At no point was there an offer of oil in exchange for the detention of Americans,” the official said.
Republican lawmakers seized on the timing of the trip as a sign the Biden Administration wants to bring Venezuelan oil back on the market to replace the loss of Russian oil, with numerous GOP officials claiming the president was choosing to cozy up to dictators rather than ramp up domestic oil production. American companies have been banned from doing business with Venezuela’s state-owned oil enterprise since 2019 as a result of sanctions, and the U.S. has since enacted a series of further sanctions, such as prohibiting Venezuela from exchanging crude oil for refined diesel fuel, in an attempt to use economic pressure to force Maduro from power. Maduro’s time in office since 2013 has been tarnished by repeated scandals and corruption allegations, along with brutal crackdowns on political opponents. In 2020, experts with the U.N.’s top human rights body accused Maduro of authorizing torture and extrajudicial killings.
President Joe Biden has warned gasoline prices in the U.S. will continue rising after Tuesday’s ban on Russian oil. According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of gas in the U.S. rose to nearly $4.32 on Thursday, an all-time high.
Venezuela Frees Two Americans After Biden Team Visits President Maduro (Wall Street Journal)
Experts cite ‘crimes against humanity’ in Maduro’s Venezuela (Associated Press)
Gas Prices Are Climbing Across The U.S. — Here’s Where They’re Highest (Forbes)