By REGINA GARCIA CANO
MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Venezuelan government and its opposition agreed on Saturday to create a UN-run fund to finance health, food and education programs for the poor, while the Biden administration eased certain oil sanctions against the country in a bid to boost the newly revived talks between the parties.
The agreement signed in Mexico City by representatives of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition, including the US-backed faction led by Juan Guaidó, marked the resumption of long-running negotiations aimed at finding a common path to leave the South American country. complex crisis.
The US government, in response, agreed to allow oil giant Chevron to pump Venezuelan oil.
The general terms of the agreement for the UN-managed social fund were announced by the head of a group of Norwegian diplomats guiding the negotiations.
Venezuelan resources held in the international financial system will be directed to the fund, although neither party to the talks nor Norway’s chief facilitator, Dag Nylander, has said whether the US or European governments have agreed to allow routing of frozen assets to the new mechanism.
“In accordance with UN standards and procedures, the purpose (of the fund) would be to support the implementation of social protection measures for the Venezuelan people,” Nylander said. “The parties have identified a set of resources belonging to the Venezuelan state frozen in the international financial system that can be accessed gradually, including the need to obtain authorizations and approvals” from foreign institutions and organizations.
A UN report released earlier this year estimated humanitarian needs at $795 million to help around 5.2 million people in Venezuela through health, education, water and sanitation projects. sanitation, food and others.
Under President Donald Trump, the United States has tightened economic sanctions against Venezuela and granted Guaidó the power to take control of bank accounts that Maduro’s government holds at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or any other bank insured by the United States.
Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s interim president in January 2019, arguing that his capacity as president of the country’s National Assembly allowed him to form a transitional government because Maduro was re-elected in a sham vote in late 2018. Dozens of countries, including the United States, Canada and Colombia have recognized him as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela.
European banks also hold frozen Venezuelan assets.
Around 7 million people have left Venezuela amid a complex political and humanitarian crisis. Three-quarters of those who remain in the country live on less than $1.90 a day, an international measure of extreme poverty.
About $3 billion is expected to gradually flow into the fund.
The dialogue officially began in September 2021, but Maduro delegates pulled out of the negotiations in October 2021 after businessman Alex Saab was extradited for money laundering from Cape Verde to the United States. Maduro has conditioned a takeover on the release of Saab.
The Treasury Department on Saturday announced its decision to allow California-based Chevron to resume ‘limited’ energy production in Venezuela after years of sanctions that have dramatically reduced oil and gas profits that have been paid to the government. of Maduro.
The Biden administration’s move is the latest step in easing hostile relations between the US and Venezuelan governments. It came weeks after a major prisoner swap in which Venezuela freed seven jailed Americans in exchange for the US release of two nephews of Maduro’s wife. Maduro freed two more Americans in March.
Under the new policy, profits from energy sales would be used to pay off debt owed to Chevron, rather than providing profits to Venezuela’s state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, commonly known as PDVSA.
The Treasury’s decision “brings more transparency to the Venezuelan oil sector,” Chevron said in a statement. The company added that the decision “means that Chevron can now commercialize oil currently produced from the company’s joint venture assets. We are committed to maintaining a constructive presence in the country and continuing to support investment programs.” social service aimed at providing humanitarian aid.
A senior US administration official, briefing reporters on the US action on condition of anonymity, said the easing of sanctions was unrelated to the administration’s efforts to boost global energy production following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and that the decision was not expected. influence global energy prices.
The social fund deal is part of a broad agenda set to move forward in December, including conditions for presidential elections due to take place in 2024, the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal of rulings that prevent many politicians from To stand for elections.
The fund is the tangible result of a process that many view with skepticism after negotiations led by the international community in previous years failed to bring the parties to an agreement.
David Smilde, senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America and professor at Tulane University, said that after the long hiatus in negotiations, “it is up to both sides to show the exhausted Venezuelan population that they can really meet his needs and come back”. the country to a functioning democracy.
“However, this should not be seen as the end point of the negotiations but as a restart,” Smilde said. “The more important questions of justice and democracy are on the agenda for the next meetings. Making progress will be difficult, but both sides have a lot to gain by rising to the occasion. »
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report from Washington.