Crude awakening 

Venezuela's ongoing political challenges amid eased oil and gas sanctions. 

In the chaotic tango of Venezuela’s political soap opera, the recent nod to ease oil and gas sanctions by the US seems to have stirred a tempestuous storm. After an opposition primary win by María Corina Machado—a figure barred from office for 15 years—has sparked controversy. An investigation into alleged fraud surrounds the primary outcome, further complicated by an appeal from dissident opposition figure José Brito. The highest court’s ruling suspended all election results, reinforcing its ban on Machado, citing alleged corruption and support for international sanctions, while demanding full disclosure of primary election documents.

“The Maduro administration’s priority is to retain power.” The source who helped organise the primary elections in which María Corina Machado was chosen continued, “the Maduro administration will not take any decision that would jeopardise its stay in power.” Yet critics are calling it a ‘time-out’ tactic to keep those eased sanctions flowing. Secretary of State Antony Blinken set a deadline of November 30 for a process enabling opposition candidates to gain approval or protest decisions. Venezuela announced such a process shortly before the deadline, allowing Machado to appeal the ban on her candidacy, so don’t bet on it being any fairer than a rigged carnival game. 

So, why’s reconciliation on the rocks? Well, apart from the political punch-up, Venezuela’s low oil productions are playing a lead role. They’re sitting on a pool of oil, yet the country struggles amid a severe political and economic crisis. A member of the National Primary Commission of the Unitary Platform retorted that “the Maduro administration also believes that neither Machado nor the Unitary Platform has the capacity to mobilise the population for political change outside of an electoral scenario.”

“neither Machado nor the Unitary Platform has the capacity to mobilise the population for political change outside of an electoral scenario.”

National Primary Commission of the Unitary Platform, Venezuela

Back in 2018, the opposition cried foul over Maduro’s re-election, calling it a sham. Now they’re hoping for a 2024 showdown? The National Primary Commission’s drumming up a funeral march for Machado’s shot at the presidency. Against the backdrop of the global energy crisis triggered by Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, everyone’s got their eyes on Venezuela, but let’s face it—getting out of this isn’t going to be easy.

Venezuela’s political landscape remains fraught; the opposition’s primary rejection and legal twists show Venezuela’s politics is messier than a plate of spaghetti in a washing machine. As the Maduro advisor put it, “any ‘opposition’ candidacy outside the Unitary Platform would lack relevance and would not be able to give the image of a competitive election.”

The demand for transparency in the electoral process, while commendable, raises concerns about the potential for manipulation or delays to serve political agendas. “Indeed, the population would perceive such a candidacy as a manoeuvre by the Venezuelan government and it would not have popular support.” The Maduro administration advisor elaborated, “abstention would be huge in the scenario where such a candidacy was the only alternative to the PSUV candidate.”

All this legal ping-pong spells out Venezuela’s shaky justice system and some backstage power play by the United States. “No-one within the Maduro administration or the PSUV is proposing to abruptly break off negotiations with the US and the opposition.” The advisor to the Maduro administration continued, “despite his public statements, not even Diosdado Cabello is in that position.”

“No-one within the Maduro administration or the PSUV is proposing to abruptly break off negotiations with the US and the opposition.”

Advisor to Maduro administration, Venezuela

Let’s not forget Venezuela’s economic reliance on oil and gas. The nation’s diminished oil production capacity, coupled with the global energy crisis, poses significant challenges to its economic recovery. “The strategy of easing sanctions seems to be failing,” commented the Maduro advisor. “The US has not even been able to secure the release of the few American citizens detained in Venezuela.” But in this whirlwind, spare a thought for the millions caught in the crossfire and the Venezuelans that are rapidly having to move out of the country.

Venezuela’s current political quagmire, exacerbated by its economic struggles and the complexities surrounding the recent developments following the eased oil and gas sanctions, presents a challenging landscape. The nation’s at a crossroads, screaming for democracy, fair elections and a bit of international TLC. It’s going to take more than good scriptwriting; it needs a cast willing to rewrite the whole show for Venezuela and its people.

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