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US Eases Sanction Amid Venezuela Talks 11/27 09:18

   Venezuela's government and its opposition on Saturday agreed to create a 
U.N.-managed fund to finance health, food and education programs for the poor, 
while the Biden administration eased some oil sanctions on the country in an 
effort to boost the newly restarted talks between the sides.

   MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Venezuela's government and its opposition on Saturday 
agreed to create a U.N.-managed fund to finance health, food and education 
programs for the poor, while the Biden administration eased some oil sanctions 
on the country in an effort to boost the newly restarted talks between the 
sides.

   The agreement signed in Mexico City by representatives of President Nicols 
Maduro and the opposition, including the faction backed by the United States 
and led by Juan Guaid, marked the resumption of long-stalled negotiations 
meant to find a common path out of the South American country's complex crisis.

   The U.S. government, in response, agreed to allow oil giant Chevron to pump 
Venezuelan oil.

   The broad terms of the agreement for the United Nations-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, though neither side in the talks nor Norway's chief 
facilitator, Dag Nylander, said whether the U.S. or European governments have 
agreed to allow frozen assets to be funneled to the new mechanism.

   "In line with UN norms and procedures, (the fund's) objective 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 
to which it is possible to progressively access, understanding the need to 
obtain the authorizations and approvals" from foreign institutions and 
organizations.

   A U.N. report published earlier this year estimated humanitarian needs at 
$795 million to help about 5.2 million people in Venezuela through health, 
education, water and sanitation, food and other projects.

   Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. ramped up economic sanctions against 
Venezuela and granted Guaid authority to take control of bank accounts that 
Maduro's government has in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or any other 
U.S.-insured banks.

   Guaid declared himself Venezuela's interim president in January 2019, 
arguing that his capacity as then-president of the country's National Assembly 
allowed him to form a transitional government because Maduro had been 
re-elected in a sham vote in late 2018. Dozens of countries, including the 
U.S., Canada and Colombia, recognized him as Venezuela's legitimate leader.

   European banks also hold Venezuelan frozen assets.

   About 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 for extreme poverty.

   About $3 billion is expected to be progressively directed to the fund.

   The dialogue formally began in September 2021, but Maduro's delegates walked 
away from negotiations in October 2021 after businessman Alex Saab was 
extradited on money laundering charges from Cape Verde to the U.S. Maduro 
conditioned a resumption 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 curtailed oil and gas profits 
that have flowed to Maduro's government.

   The decision by the Biden administration is the latest step in the softening 
of hostile relations between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments. It came weeks 
after a major prisoner swap in which Venezuela freed seven imprisoned Americans 
in exchange for the U.S. freeing two nephews of Maduro's wife. Maduro released 
two other Americans in March.

   Under the new policy, profits from the sale of energy would be directed to 
paying down debt owed to Chevron, rather than providing profits to Venezuela's 
state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., commonly known as PDVSA.

   Treasury's move "brings added transparency to the Venezuelan oil sector," 
Chevron said in a statement. The company added that the decision "means Chevron 
can now commercialize the oil that is currently being produced from the 
company's Joint Venture assets. We are determined to remain a constructive 
presence in the country and to continue supporting social investment programs 
aimed at providing humanitarian relief."

   A senior U.S. administration official, briefing reporters about the U.S. 
action under the condition of anonymity, said that easing the sanctions was not 
connected to the administration's efforts to boost global energy production in 
the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and that the decision was not expected 
to impact global energy prices.

   The agreement over the social fund is part of a broad agenda that is 
expected to advance in December, including the conditions for the presidential 
elections that are supposed to take place in 2024, the release of political 
prisoners and the withdrawal of decisions that bar many politicians from 
running for office.

   The fund is a tangible result from a process that many see with skepticism 
after negotiations mediated by the international community in previous years 
failed to bring the sides to an agreement.

   David Smilde, senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America and 
professor at Tulane University, said that after the long break in negotiations, 
"it is up to the two sides to show the exhausted Venezuelan population that 
they can actually address their needs and return the country to a functioning 
democracy."

   "However, this should be seen not as the end point of the negotiations but 
as a restart," Smilde said. "The more important issues of justice and democracy 
are on the agenda for future meetings. Making progress will be difficult, but 
both sides have much to gain by rising to the occasion."

 
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