Venezuela: Is Biden preparing to cave to Maduro?

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

While it doesn’t receive much attention in the mainstream media these days, what with all of the other garbage that’s going on, the situation in Venezuela is still a hot mess. If anything, it’s only gotten worse over the past year because of the pandemic. Nicolas Maduro is still fully in control, even though most of the governments in the civilized world don’t recognize him as the rightful president of the country. Maduro and most of his cronies remain under crippling sanctions from the U.S. and many other nations, though the Russians and the Chinese regularly help him to skirt those restrictions. Meanwhile, there are Americans still being held hostage in that country and the citizens who have failed to flee to other nations are in desperate need of aid and relief.

With all of that as the backdrop for the current state of affairs, is President Biden seriously considering going to the table with Maduro and making some concessions? That’s one of the latest rumors coming out of the State Department this week. (Associated Press)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government is intensifying efforts to court the Biden administration as the new U.S. president weighs whether to risk a political backlash in Florida and ease up on sanctions seeking to isolate the socialist leader.

In the past two weeks, Maduro conceded to longstanding U.S. demands that the World Food Program be allowed to establish a foothold in the country at a time of growing hunger. His allies also vowed to work with the U.S.-backed opposition to vaccinate Venezuelans against the coronavirus and have met with diplomats from Norway trying to revive negotiations to end the country’s never-ceasing political strife.

It just seems obvious that Maduro would be buttering up Joe Biden now that he’s in office. Donald Trump was a fierce Maduro critic and didn’t give an inch in terms of concessions. The dictator probably thinks there’s no harm in putting some offers on the table in the hopes that Joe Biden will bite. But the “concessions” Maduro has made thus far aren’t much to write home about. His two notable moves were recently allowing the World Food Program to begin distributing aid and to allow the distribution of more coronavirus vaccines. Those shouldn’t be considered “concessions.” Those are the things that any responsible leader would already have been doing for his people if he didn’t want to look like a monster.

The problem with Maduro (okay… one of the many problems with Maduro) is that he continues to expect to be given something huge before he’s willing to agree to any sort of compromise. He’s going to want Joe Biden to make significant reductions in the sanctions against Venezuelan officials. That’s obviously a dream-come-true for Maduro, as it would give the rest of the countries of the world cover to ease their own sanctions in the interest of restoring some sort of normalcy to their foreign policy regarding Venezuela.

Unfortunately, what passes for “normal” in that country is far from it. Going back to the old way of doing business would mean that most of the civilized world would have to quietly pretend that everyone has forgotten that Maduro was declared an illegitimate president. The first two things Maduro could offer in return for our generosity would be easy to put forward, however. The first would be the immediate release of all American hostages, including six former executives from CITGO and two former Green Berets. The next concession should be an agreement to schedule a new round of elections as quickly as they can be organized. But he’s had his thumb on the scales for every election in recent memory and there’s no reason to believe that anything will change now.

I have to confess that I actually have some sympathy for Joe Biden and his State Department on this issue. There really doesn’t seem to be any sort of obvious solution to this puzzle, or at least not a satisfying one. But if I had to guess, I would venture to say that Maduro has been watching how Biden seems to be gliding back toward making some concessions to Iran and he’s guessing that he might be able to get the same sort of deal. It’s an irksome situation no matter which way Biden decides to go.