Venezuelan oil goad in US-Russia game

Amid a new eruption of massive protests and deadly street clashes in Venezuela comes word that General Motors says it will immediately halt operations in the country after its plant in the industrial hub of Valencia was unexpectedly seized by authorities. GM described the takeover as an "illegal judicial seizure of its assets," and pledged to "vigorously take all legal actions, within and outside of Venezuela" to challenge the expropriation. (CNN, NBC, April 20) But the news comes along with even more unexpected indications of quiet overtures between the governments of Nicolás Maduro and Donald Trump

The day before the seizure of the GM plant, The Guardian ran a story with the startling headline "Socialist Venezuela chipped in $500,000 to Trump's inauguration"…

A Venezuelan state-owned oil company, heavily indebted to the Russian oil giant Rosneft, made a $500,000 donation to Donald Trump's inauguration festivities, it has emerged.

Foreign donations are banned under US law, but the Venezuelan company, PdVSA, made the donation through a US affiliate, Citgo Petrol, soon after offering a nearly 50% stake in Citgo to Rosneft as collateral for a $1.5bn loan.

These transactions come at a time when PdVSA and the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro is desperate for cash as oil revenues shrink and civil unrest grows. The influx of money from Rosneft is helping keep PdVSA and Maduro afloat.

If Venezuela defaults on the debt, Rosneft could stand to gain a controlling stake in Citgo, a prospect that has caused anxiety among both Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress. Under current circumstances, however, Rosneft could not take ownership of its shares in Citgo—which owns three refineries, as well as pipelines and oil terminals – because the Russian firm and its boss, Igor Sechin, are under US sanctions linked to Moscow’s military intervention in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

However, as Donald Trump prepared for his inauguration in January, having named the former oil executive Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, Moscow had grounds for optimism that sanctions would be lifted. The new Trump White House is reported to have prepared executive orders relaxing Russian sanctions but was ultimately persuaded not to take action by congressional Republicans and European allies.

The half-million-dollar donation to the Trump inaugural committee came to light on Wednesday in a report by the Federal Election Commission. Neither PdVSA nor Citgo have commented on the gift.

It is not the only link between Rosneft and Trump. A dossier put together last year by a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, containing allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow over Russian intervention in the US presidential elections, mentions Rosneft as a central part of the supposed conspiracy. Steele claimed that Sechin, a close associate of Vladmir Putin, met one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers, Carter Page, and offered him brokerage in the sale of 19% of Rosneft shares.

This also comes as ExxonMobil is seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. With Tillerson in charge of the State Department, wonder how that's gonna work out?

It smells to us like Maduro may be hedging his bets here and hoping to cut a deal with the Trump White House—even while demonizing his own opposition as puppets of US imperialism. We've argued before that the Bolivarian Revolution's "21st century socialism" is actually state capitalism with a populist veneer. But it would be especially sad to see it acquescing in the global carve-up of the Trump-Putin fascist world worder. We await further clarification on this story.

  1. Venezuela: Amnesty protests ‘Plan Zamora’

    Venezuela's government this week officially activated "Plan Zamora," a security mechanism calling for deployment of civilians to fight alongside police and military forces to "preserve public order." Amnesty International's Americas directer, Erika Guevara-Rosas, stated that 'Plan Zamora' may lead to rights abuses at the hands of armed groups. (Jurist, April 20) 

    At least a dozen were killed as the streets of Caracas erupted into a night of riots April 20, looting and clashes between government opponents and the National Guard. Throughout the night, the sounds of banging pots and pans reverberated through the capital, a traditional form of protest known as the "cacerolazo," which has taken on greater significance as the country struggles with shortages of food. (NYT, April 20)

  2. Venezuela opts out of OAS, oleaginous with Moscow

    Telling timing. Venezuela announced today that it will withdraw from the Organization of American States (OAS), accusing the international body of meddling in its internal affairs.
    The announcement came after the OAS voted to hold a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the mounting crisis in Venezuela. (BBC News) The announcement also coinicided with the arrival in Moscow of Vladimir Padrino, Venezuela's Defense Minister, who announced that he would meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoygu. Flying in for the VI Moscow Conference on International Security, sponsored by the Russian Defense Ministry, Padrino stated: "I have come upon the orders of President Nicolás Maduro… I bring a very interesting, a very important point [to the conference], which is NATO's projection in Latin America, its consequences and risks." (PanAm Post)