U.S. lawmakers and regional experts worry that Venezuela's worsening political crisis could create a dangerous outcome for U.S. foreign policy, as it may give Russia control over a key Venezuelan energy company.
Venezuela's Supreme Court, which is dominated by jurists loyal to embattled President Nicolas Maduro, abrogated the legislature's authority over energy deals with foreign countries and assumed for itself the right to exercise "parliamentary powers." That decision could empower an executive branch that has turned a blind eye to drug trafficking, flirted with Middle Eastern terrorists, and expanded its dependence on a Russian energy industry laboring under Western sanctions imposed as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine.
"We are dealing with a dictatorial regime capable of anything," an aide to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told the Washington Examiner. "We need to watch closely the review process of Rosneft's potential acquisition of Citgo. Because the outcome of that acquisition can adversely affect American interests."
Russia is on the cusp of controlling a 49.9 percent stake in Citgo, which is owned by a Venezuelan government entity known as PDVSA that used the oil company as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan. "The key to open all the locks here is the Venezuelan government's desperation for cash," Praveen Kumar, executive director of the Gutierrez Energy Management Institute at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business, told CBS.
That "desperation for cash," exacerbated by the falling price of oil and a series of counterproductive economic decisions by Maduro, has reduced the government to the reported sale of passports to individuals connected to Hezbollah. "As long as the Maduro regime governs in Caracas, the crisis that is consuming Venezuela will further strengthen Washington's enemies in the Western Hemisphere," a pair of Republican foreign policy experts wrote in Foreign Policy magazine. "Developing a coherent strategy to address this deadly convergence of threats should become a much higher priority for U.S. policymakers."
U.S. leaders want the Organization of American States, and especially South American democracies, to pressure Maduro's government to reform. "With this blatant violation of the constitution, Venezuela sure looks like a full-fledged dictatorship," House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said late Thursday in response to the court's decision. "Thousands of Venezuelans are in jail simply for their political beliefs and some have been tortured. President Maduro's corrupt authoritarianism is destroying the economy and lives of Venezuela's 30 million citizens, and undermining stability in the hemisphere."
Russia, however, seems poised to use American condemnation of the "friendly Republic of Venezuela" as another plank to build the argument that the United States disrespects the sovereignty of smaller countries.
"[I]t would be advisable for the mission of international mediators represented by respected international politicians and the regional community (UNASUR) to resume their operation," Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Friday. "The external forces should refrain from making statements that could add fuel to the fire of infighting in Venezuela. We reaffirm our commitment to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of countries. As a great Latin American politician said, 'Respect for the rights of others means peace.'"