Venezuela's Loss Is Russia and China's Gain

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (C), head of Russian state oil firm Rosneft Igor Sechin (centre L), and Venezuela's Oil Minister and President of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA Manuel Quevedo meet in Maiquetia, Venezuela December 16, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

As Maduro pushes his country to the brink, Moscow and Beijing gain footholds in the Western hemisphere.

Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) is indicative of the state of Venezuela. The once thriving company, which is responsible for exploration of the world’s largest proven reserves of oil and gas, is on the brink of collapse. Maj. Gen. Manuel Quevedo—a loyal follower of President Maduro who has no known energy sector experience—is now leading the company. Critics are viewing it as a safeguard against a military coup for Maduro who gutted PDVSA of top talent through arrests and firings as he tightens his grip on power. Before the purge, oil facilities were and still are crumbling, production has plummeted and Venezuela owes billions to Russia and China, which has South America and the United States concerned about geopolitical stability in the region.

The failures at PDVSA and the Maduro administration are a symptom and cause of the nation’s economic spiral, since Venezuela relies overwhelmingly on oil and gas sales for their economic well-being. Energy prices are now in recovery from the 2014 oil crash, but Venezuela is getting worse. With deepening troubles at PDVSA the nation is destabilizing rapidly and now, “The government is facing a dire recession, soaring inflation and unbridled crime, as well as food and medicine shortages.”

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A decade ago, Venezuela was the richest country in South America and aspired to be the nexus of a diplomatic and trade alliance in the entire Western hemisphere. But now isolated, broke, and with Maduro regarded as a left-leaning despot in a region that has “shifted politically to the right,” Venezuela is looking to China and Russia for assistance. Beijing and Moscow have sought for decades to assert greater influence in America’s backyard—Maduro and his broken country have given them the perfect opening.

The rift with the United States worsened when Todd D. Robinson, a career Foreign Service Officer who was recently ambassador to Guatemala and is now the ambassador to Venezuela, said in an introductory video posted online, “that he would look for opportunities to help bring democracy and prosperity to Venezuela.” This was seen as American heavy-handedness by Delcy Rodriguez, President of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly who rebuked Ambassador Robinson by saying, “he had arrived to our country on the wrong foot.”

There are dangers to country’s meddling in Venezuela’s inner workings. Juan Gonzales, former White House and State Department official in the Obama administration who worked on Latin American policy said that, “Marginalizing the Venezuelan kleptocracy is important, but total isolation will cede the ability of regional leaders to shape political events on the ground to actors outside the region.”

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