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U.S.-Venezuelan Relations Thaw After Years of Harsh Sanctions Helped Worsen Economic & Migrant Crisis

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The Biden administration recently moved to ease some sanctions on Venezuela and gave Chevron the green light to resume oil production in Venezuela. Venezuela has faced a years-long economic crisis in part due to harsh U.S. sanctions. Miguel Tinker Salas joins us to discuss shifting U.S.-Venezuelan relations, as well as their impacts on Venezuelan migrants to the U.S.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Venezuela, and we’re going to look at Venezuela right now, this all coming as tens of thousands of Venezuelans are trapped in Mexico while trying to reach the United States. In October, the Biden administration expanded Title 42 to turn away Venezuelan asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Venezuela has faced a years-long economic crisis, in part due to harsh U.S. sanctions. However, U.S.-Venezuelan relations are now shifting. The Biden administration recently moved to ease some sanctions on Venezuela, and the administration gave Chevron the green light to resume oil production in Venezuela.

To talk more about these issues and an agreement that’s been reached between the United States, the Venezuelan government and the opposition, we’re joined by Miguel Tinker Salas, professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California, author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela, as well as Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know.

Well, Professor Tinker Salas, welcome back to Democracy Now! What does everyone need to know about what has gotten very little coverage, but maybe because of worsening relationships between the United States and Saudi Arabia and its dependence there, the U.S. changing its attitude towards Venezuela, and the deal that was just struck?


If only slightly. Under General License 41, Chevron has been — a U.S. company which has been in Venezuela for quite some time, has been allowed to resume production and join operations with the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA. However, much of that money will go to pay debt that the Venezuelan government has toward Chevron. So, in fact, the Venezuelan government will be receiving very little money about that.

What has also happened is that they have targeted $3 billion of Venezuelan reserves abroad in an agreement with the opposition to allow the United Nations to use that money for humanitarian aid within the country.

So, there are small little cracks that one begins to see in this process, building upon earlier conversations that led to the release of six individuals that had been arrested that worked for the Venezuelan oil company Citgo and are now returned to the U.S. So, there are small steps. But in addition to that, we have to consider that, two days ago, in the U.S. Senate, they passed the BOLIVAR Act, which prohibits any federal agency from having dealings with the Venezuelan government.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about this new United States policy allowing 24,000 Venezuelans to seek asylum. Obviously, the Venezuelan population in the United States is the fastest-growing group now among people of Latin American descent. But there are particular requirements here in terms of having not only a valid passport and airfare but also an economic benefactor in the U.S. Could you talk about this policy and how it came about?

MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: Well, this policy came about shortly after the Biden administration, in an election eve decision, decided to apply Title 42 to Venezuela and not allow them to seek asylum at the border. It proposes something that’s largely unattainable: 24,000 people who have valid passports, who can request asylum from within Venezuela, where there is no U.S. embassy or consulate, that have a plane ticket and have a U.S. economic sponsor. This really favors those individuals with resources and actually makes it more difficult for individuals that are at the border for whom Title 42 has been applied, and therefore, makes it much more complicated. And for some people, it’s highly unattainable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of — you were talking before about Chevron. Obviously, the United States had imposed heavy sanctions on Venezuela’s owned, or largely owned, company here, Citgo. Has that changed at all? What’s the situation with Citgo?

MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: That has not changed at all. In fact, Citgo was handed over to the opposition, so the Venezuelan government has very little role within Citgo itself. It operates in the U.S. So, in that sense, there has been very little that’s changed over the term of the sanctions.

The sanctions continue to grip the Venezuelan economy. As we know, sanctions have not worked anywhere. They haven’t worked in Iran. They haven’t worked in Cuba. They increase the suffering for the ordinary Venezuelan people. That’s what’s really tragic about both the immigration policy and the application of Title 42 with Venezuelans and continued sanctions in Venezuela, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And I wanted to ask you, Professor Tinker Salas, about the agreement — we talked about the U.S. and Venezuela, but this Mexico City agreement between the government of Maduro and the opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, marking the resumption of long-stalled negotiations between them. What has been brokered?

MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: Well, what’s been brokered is that the negotiations will resume. It’s unlikely they’ll take place this year. But there’s another problem. And that problem is that Guaidó’s term in office is set to expire. With the new year comes a new Assembly leadership. And what you have right now in Venezuela is a major potential split within the unified opposition, the G4, over whether Guaidó should continue or not. So, there’s a small faction that argues that Guaidó should continue as the so-called interim president of the National Assembly, and therefore the one that was recognized by the Trump administration, and others that say that that policy has failed and that we need new leadership in the opposition, and that, therefore, there is a split right now between several parties over what will be the character of the opposition going forward, particularly going forward into negotiations.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you — in terms of those who are coming from Venezuela, it’s obviously a long trek through all of Central America up into Mexico. What’s your sense of who is actually coming from Venezuela, from what sectors of the population? And how are they — are they being treated differently at all from other migrants from or asylum seekers from Central America?

MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: I think that’s a very good question, because, yes, there is several layers here to unpack. One is that many Venezuelans had originally traveled to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, where they faced xenophobia, they faced anti-Venezuelan reaction, and they began to move back north again. Another wave joined them, as well, coming out of Venezuela, and they began to trek through the Darién Strait. The key thing to understand is that that path had already been established earlier by Haitians and by Cubans who migrated to the U.S. several years ago utilizing the same path through the Darién Strait, through Central America, through Mexico. So we have a variety of forces that are moving this migration northward. There are new individuals coming out of Venezuela. Not all are economically confronting situations of dire straits. Others are, in fact, small merchants. Others have funds to get across the Darién Strait. And the key thing here is that that route has been mapped. It was mapped by the Haitians. It was mapped by the Cubans. It has an infrastructure. So, Venezuelans joined that movement going north through that trek and then crossed Central America and got into Mexico.

The problem when they arrived to the U.S. was that they experienced the same experience that the Cubans of 1980 in Mariel experienced. Here we have new Venezuelans coming, many of them people of color, many of them working-class, and they confronted a reaction that they didn’t expect from other Venezuelans who saw them as somehow not worthy of the same treatment. They were a lower socioeconomic class. They were bochornosos. They were rabble-rousers. And they confronted a reaction that they had not expected, so that they have two conditions they confronted. One was the Title 42 being applied to them and not being requested — and not being allowed to request asylum, and the other was a reaction from the existing Venezuelan community that saw them with suspicion, going to the point of saying that they were sent by Maduro to destabilize the Venezuelan diaspora and destabilize the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to end with a clip from a Venezuelan who attempted to make it to the United States.

VENEZUELAN MIGRANT: [translated] In the jungle, many died next to me, drowned, etc. Many brought their pets, such as dogs, from home. I would give some advice to all these people. Migrating is not easy. If it’s difficult, per se, imagine if you do it with children. More than once, you put your life at risk in the jungle.

AMY GOODMAN: Miguel Tinker Salas, if you’d you like to comment for the last 30 seconds?

MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: I think that what he said was exactly true. We’ve interviewed individuals like that. We have an article in La Jornada last week we called “The Venezuelan Exodus,” with Luis Duno, my co-author, and we document that trek. And the immigrants are creating their own immigrant culture through social media, and exposing the realities along that trek and at the U.S.-Mexican border. And we should hear their voices in this context.

AMY GOODMAN: Miguel Tinker Salas is a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California, author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela and Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know.

Coming up, we go to Atlanta, Georgia, where five activists are facing domestic terrorism charges for protesting a massive police training center known as Cop City. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” by The Specials. Lead singer Terry Hall passed away this week at the age of 63.

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