Menendez slams Biden administration over reported oil talks with Venezuela
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said Monday that talks between Biden administration officials and the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro “risks perpetuating a humanitarian crisis that has destabilized Latin America and the Caribbean for an entire generation.”
“Nicolás Maduro is a cancer to our hemisphere and we should not breathe new life into his reign of torture and murder,” Menendez said in a statement. “As such, I would strongly oppose any action that fills the pockets of regime oligarchs with oil profits while Maduro continues to deprive Venezuelans of basic human rights, freedoms, and even food.”
Biden administration officials on Saturday were reported to have traveled to Venezuela to talk about the possibility of easing sanctions on oil exports from Caracas as U.S. officials increasingly weigh banning Russian oil imports while the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine stretches into the start of its third week.
The White House was pressed Monday about its willingness to engage in talks involving Venezuela, as well as Saudi Arabia and Iran about oil deals with those governments in an effort to help ease skyrocketing gas prices in the U.S.
Menendez also called for the release of Americans imprisoned by the Maduro government but called for refraining from using such prisoners as “bargaining chips.”
The New Jersey Democrat said the White House’s efforts to unite the world against Russia’s actions “should not be undercut by propping up a dictator under investigation for crimes against humanity in Caracas.”
“The democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people, much like the resolve and courage of the people of Ukraine, are worth much more than a few thousand barrels of oil,” Menendez said.
The Washington Post reported Monday that the U.S. delegation also interviewed six oil executives jailed in Venezuela on charges of embezzlement, money laundering and racketeering.
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the purpose of the trip to Venezuela “was to discuss a range of issues — including, certainly, energy security — but also to discuss the health and welfare of detained U.S. citizens. We’re never going to miss an opportunity to do exactly that.”
When asked if the Maduro government would agree to release the Americans in exchange for the U.S. easing sanctions on oil exports, Psaki said, “Obviously, we’re going to continue to do everything we can to bring anyone who is detained in Venezuela or any other part of the world home, but they happen through different tracks. They’re all a part of the conversation with Venezuela writ large but not at the same time.”
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