Today’s news brought two Venezuela stories that cannot be unrelated—and I would bet there is a third as yet unannounced story to come as well.
The first story is, as The New York Times put it, that
The Biden administration will start deporting Venezuelans who crossed into the country illegally, officials said Thursday….Previously, the Biden administration had said it could not deport Venezuelans because of the absence of diplomatic relations with Caracas. The statement on Thursday said the Venezuelan authorities had decided to accept the return of their nationals.
Obviously this agreement is the product of long negotiations between the Biden administration and the Maduro regime.
The second story is about a Maduro regime action the same day:
The Venezuelan authorities said on Thursday that they were seeking the arrest of Juan Guaidó, the former opposition leader who is in exile in the United States….Venezuela’s Public Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that prosecutors had been appointed to issue the warrant for Mr. Guaidó’s arrest and that the government would ask Interpol to issue a “red notice” to governments worldwide asking that he be detained.
The Maduro regime could have arrested Guaido when he was in Venezuela, or could have sought his arrest the day he reached safety in the United States. Why now? My guess is that their new relationship with the Biden administration has convinced them it can now take steps previously considered extreme.
I served as Special Representative for Venezuela from January 2019 to 2021, when Mr. Guaido was Interim President of Venezuela. During that period, the sum total of funds we gave Mr. Guaido was zero. The regime’s accusation that “Mr. Guaidó had used the resources of the state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, for his own benefit” is nonsense. It is completely false. The Interim Government was allowed to spend funds from Venezuelan government accounts in the United States, but only under the watchful eye of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. None of the funds went to Mr. Guaido; everything spent was moved from those accounts through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to the ultimate recipient.
But there is more to these stories. Why did the regime agree now to accept back Venezuelan migrants? What were the inducements? After all, on its face the action brings no benefit to the regime. What the Biden administration has not yet announced but will follow, I am unhappily confident, is a further relaxation of U.S. sanctions. If I’m right, the regime is essentially being paid off to accept migrants back. It’s an ugly policy, which would be unnecessary if we had control of our own border. We do not, so desperate Venezuelans risk everything to come here—and now will be sent back home. And the vicious Maduro regime will be paid off to take them.
I hope I am wrong, and we will find out soon enough in the rest of 2023. But I bet we will see—announced or unannounced—a further weakening of U.S. oil sanctions so the regime can make more money. The United States will not be paying the Venezuelan dictator per capita for every Venezuelan sent back, but what the Biden administration will I believe soon be doing is not very far from that.