Venezuelan government and opposition agree to unfreeze billions in state funds

Both parties are requesting that the international community lift sanctions on the Maduro government, so that $5 billion in frozen state monies held abroad can be released

Conflicto colombo-venezolano
Photograph provided by MinCI showing Jorge Rodríguez (c), together with members of the Venezuelan official delegation, while offering statements to journalists today, upon arrival in Mexico City (Mexico).MinCI (MinCI EFE)

After months of anticipation, the Maduro regime and the Venezuelan opposition have begun negotiations in Mexico, with several topics of discussion on the table. However, both parties have already agreed to request that the United States unfreeze state funds being kept abroad.

This financial measure was taken during the Trump administration, to pressure Maduro as part of a series of sanctions imposed in response to human rights abuses. Now that both the government and opposition are asking that it be reversed, international banks, investment funds and credit institutions should have sufficient confidence to release huge amounts of money of Venezuelan origin.

A chunk of this capital – worth between $3 to $5 billion – will go directly into the coffers of the Maduro government. Another will go to a humanitarian aid fund, managed by the United Nations, to attend to the needs of millions of Venezuelans who are living in desperate conditions.

“This is going to be signed… we trust that the money will begin to circulate shortly,” said a source from within the negotiation.

The Bank of England has retained 31 tons of gold bars from Venezuela. The American government has also been holding large foreign sums that were deposited in the US by the Central Bank of Venezuela. The Chavista government in Caracas – eager to access what is estimated to be up to $5 billion in cash and assets that are frozen abroad – has conditioned its presence in Mexico on the relaxation of international sanctions, which have been imposed since Maduro shuttered the democratically-elected National Assembly in 2017.

The Biden administration – searching for new sources of oil, given the rising energy prices caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine – has also announced that energy giant Chevron will be receiving several licenses to exploit various Venezuelan oil concessions. Maduro’s willingness to restart foreign investment in the energy sector has also bolstered Washington’s support for the easing of sanctions, despite the objections of the Venezuelan opposition.

The first round of negotiations will take place on November 26 and 27. Another round will likely occur at the start of 2023. Both parties have expressed a desire to avoid too much time lapsing between the dialogues, so that an agreement can be reached quickly and be made public.

The Venezuelan opposition’s ultimate goal is that the National Electoral Council – an institution dominated by the regime – organizes clean elections in 2024, which can be verified by international observers. The various parties of the opposition have agreed to present a single candidate to challenge Maduro for the presidency. Said candidate will be chosen in primaries that will be held next year.

There have been several failed rounds of negotiations in the past. This latest attempt has been pushed by Gustavo Petro, the recently elected left-wing president of Colombia. The discussions in Mexico are also being facilitated by Norway, Russia and the Netherlands. However, Petro’s social media posts – which boast about the talks – have garnered ire from negotiators on both sides. They have made it clear that, while elected leaders like Colombia’s Petro, France’s Macron and Spain’s Pedro Sánchez want to get political credit for bringing the opposing parties to the table, they are not to be part of the process. They are strictly meant to play a supporting role.

Maduro’s government has offered no sign that free and fair elections are a priority. Rather, the unfreezing of funds held abroad is front-and-center on the agenda. Jorge Rodríguez – Maduro’s right-hand man, the government’s key negotiator – has said that it is necessary to “recover legitimate resources, the property of the Venezuelan state, which are being frozen by the international financial system.”

“This agreement,” he went on to say in a statement, “expresses the advancement of the right of our people to enjoy their assets and resources, which have been illegally blocked.” He went on to say that the recovered money will go towards propping up the healthcare system and vital infrastructure. Many in Venezuela and abroad doubt that the monies will be appropriately utilized.

In addition to Rodríguez, Maduro’s son will be representing the government in the dialogue. Camila Fabri – the wife of Álex Saab, a detained Colombian businessman accused by the US of being a figurehead for Maduro – will also be there. Her presence indicates that, at some point, the Venezuelan government will demand the release of Saab, who is being held in a Miami jail. But those matters are yet to be discussed until the release of frozen state funds is achieved.

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