Oil secures Socialist Venezuela’s elite as refugees flee failed state

by WorldTribune Staff, July 20, 2018

As Venezuelans suffer and thousands flee an economic and humanitarian nightmare, the nation’s massive oil reserves allow Socialist President Nicolas Maduro and his top aides to remain safely in power in Caracas.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

“The Maduro regime, despite the crisis, is in a pretty strong political position right now,” Michael Shifter, president of the Washington think tank Inter-American Dialogue, told The Washington Times.

“There have been tough sanctions” against the Maduro government, “but we have not seen significant evidence to date to see that it has changed the behavior of the regime,” Shifter said.

Maduro was elected to another 6-year term as president in a May election which many observers say was “a sham” and many countries do not recognize as legitimate.

Officials say the U.S. has seized or frozen more than $1 billion in assets from some of Maduro’s top aides, but analysts say the same “maximum pressure” campaign that worked with North Korea may not have the same effect on Venezuela as long as oil prices continue to rise.

Christopher Sabatini, Venezuela analyst and professor of international policy at Columbia University, told The Washington Times the U.S. moves “have tightened the noose some, but that it is hard to see how it all adds up to political change in the near future.”

“There are not a lot of good additional options right now,” Sabatini said. “Other than for other governments to step up – there are not many diplomatic tools we’re not already using.”

One of those other governments could be Cuba.

Craig Deare, a professor at the National Defense University who served early in the Trump administration as an adviser for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, said “the solution to Venezuela runs through Cuba.”

“If Cuba wants to improve its relationship with the U.S., it needs to help resolve the Venezuela crisis, which is largely of its making,” Deare told The Washington Times.

The Trump administration, Deare said, can threaten to sharply scale back the Obama-era opening to Cuba by reimposing trade restrictions and halting working groups established in 2014 to mend fences between the longtime enemies.

“U.S. business is chomping at the bit to get into Cuba,” Deare said. “Trump, with his direct style, can poke them in the eye and say, ‘What do you want: a relationship with Venezuela or with us?’ ”

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