The United States government is trying to ease some economic sanctions against Venezuela to encourage the resumption of talks between the US-backed opposition and the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Limited changes will allow Chevron to negotiate its license with state oil company PDVSA, but not to drill or export oil of Venezuelan origin, two senior U.S. government officials said Monday. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no official statement.

In addition, Carlos Eric Malpico-Flores – a former high-ranking PDVSA official and nephew of Venezuela’s first lady – will be removed from the list of persons subject to sanctions.

Hours after the announcement on Tuesday, the opposition and the Venezuelan government acknowledged that talks had begun on a possible resumption of talks.

The move comes after Maduro’s gestures of goodwill following a March meeting with representatives of President Joe Biden’s administration and a recent meeting in Central America between US officials and the main opposition Unitarian Platform coalition to discuss the way forward.

“These are things that … the Unitary Platform negotiated and asked us to return to the negotiating table,” said one official.

Dozens of Venezuelans will remain under sanctions, including the country’s attorney general and head of the penitentiary system, as well as more than 140 organizations, including the Central Bank of Venezuela. The Treasury Department will continue to ban transactions with the Venezuelan government and PDVSA in U.S. financial markets.

Maduro himself is accused in the United States, he is accused of conspiring to “flood the United States with cocaine” and use the drug trade as a “weapon against America.”

The Venezuelan government suspended talks with the opposition in October after the extradition to the United States of a key ally of Maduro on charges of money laundering. Maduro at the time conditioned his return to the negotiating table with the release from custody of businessman Alex Saab, who had been extradited from the African nation of Cape Verde.

The talks were held in Mexico City under the leadership of Norwegian diplomats.

California-based Chevron is the last major U.S. oil company to do business in Venezuela, where it first invested in the 1920s. Its four joint ventures with PDVSA produced about 200,000 barrels a day in 2019, but the U.S. government ordered it to stop production in 2020, and since then it has been allowed to perform only major work on oil wells to maintain its assets and employment levels. Venezuela.

“The change allows Chevron to negotiate the terms of potential future operations in Venezuela,” a senior US official told reporters on Tuesday. “This does not allow concluding agreements with PDVSA or any other activity related to PDVSA or … the Venezuelan oil sector. So, in essence, what they are doing is just allowed to be said. ”

Chevron did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. The company’s investment in Venezuela’s oil fields and equipment over the past century has been estimated at $ 2.6 billion as of 2020.

Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but its political turmoil and economic downturn in recent years have pushed more than 6 million people to migrate. About three-quarters of those left living on less than $ 1.90 a day are considered international standards of extreme poverty, and many do not have access to clean, running water and electricity.

The United States and other countries have withdrawn Maduro’s recognition after accusing him of rigging his 2018 re-election. He was replaced by Juan Guaida, who was the head of the then congress, which was dominated by the opposition, and remains the leader of the “Unitary Platform”.

For the past five years, the U.S. has used financial and personal sanctions, criminal charges and support from secret groups in a failed campaign to oust Maduro and restore what they see as Venezuela’s stolen democracy.

But in March, US officials traveled to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, to meet with Maduro after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine overturned the world order and forced Washington to reconsider its national security priorities.

After the meeting, Maduro released two American prisoners and promised to resume talks with his opponents.

Venezuelan Vice President Delsi Rodriguez wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the South American country hopes that US decisions “will pave the way for the absolute lifting of illegal sanctions that affect all our people.”

Senior US officials have said the government will calibrate sanctions based on the concrete results of the talks and reintroduce them in the event of a retreat in the dialogue process.

“What you see here is a very refined approach that looks at a clear road map in Venezuela, where the only way the regime has to ease sanctions from the United States is through negotiations that lead to concrete results,” he said. one of them – officials told reporters.

However, in a sign of long-standing internal differences between the opposition, the Unitary Platform issued a statement Tuesday “categorically denying” that the group “requested the lifting of personal sanctions in the negotiation process.” This was followed by a separate statement from the group’s delegation during the dialogue, which did not mention economic sanctions, but said it had begun “formal talks” with its counterpart to try to resume talks soon.

Maduro’s chief negotiator and National Assembly leader Jorge Rodriguez and Gerardo Blyde, who led an opposition delegation to Mexico City, tweeted a similar photo along with a message hinting at a working meeting.

Malpico-Flores was once the national treasurer and vice president of finance for PDVSA. In 2017, he was subjected to individual sanctions as the U.S. targeted people linked to rampant corruption in the Venezuelan government.

His aunt, Celia Flores, is one of the most influential members of the Venezuelan government and is constantly present alongside her husband. Two of her other nephews are in jail in the U.S. on drug conspiracy charges.

More than a dozen Democrats sent a letter to Biden this month urging him to consider lifting broad economic sanctions. After a March meeting in Caracas, Democratic MP Gregory Mix, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also called for the suspension of oil sanctions to provide support for the talks without stopping pressure on human rights violators and corrupt officials.

Others, however, quickly criticized the administration after Tuesday’s announcement, including Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Democrat said in a statement that the strategy of giving Maduro “a handful of undeserved handouts” so that he would promise to negotiate with the opposition, “is a strategy that is destined to fail.”

“Removing Flores from the list of people subject to sanctions is clearly a gift from Maduro,” Menendez later told reporters.

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