President Hugo Chavez’s work to nationalize Venezuela’s petroleum market and anti-American sentiments lead to strained relations between the United States and Venezuela from Chavez’s election in 1999 until his death this past March. Not surprisingly, the United States government and private petroleum industries watched carefully as Venezuelans hit the polls to vote for Chavez’s successor. As many international actors predicted, but maybe hoped would not be the case, Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, won the presidential election by two percentage points. Maduro has embraced the same anti-American sentiments as Chavez, leaving many wondering what the new Socialist president will do to help or further hinder United States-Venezuela relations.
Between Maduro’s belief that the United States conspires against his Socialist agenda and the U.S. State Department’s threat not to recognize Maduro as president until Venezuelan officials complete a vote recount, United States-Venezuela relations do not appear on to be on the mend. U.S. opinion regarding the recount is not surprising. However, the United States’ input did not help to soothe Maduro’s suspicions that the United States is working with the opposition to take away his presidency.
Despite the mutual disdain, Maduro has said that he wants to work towards restoring Untied States-Venezuela relations “in terms of equality and respect.” Critics do not believe that the United States will give Maduro the equality and respect he is demanding. However, it is in the best interest of both countries to mend the relations between them.
Venezuela is slipping into an environment of inflation and high crime, something that the citizens of Venezuela have chosen to ignore because of Chavez’s heroic demeanor. Now that the heroic figure is gone, there is some concern that Maduro will not be able to distract the public’s attention from the major issues the country is facing. Therefore, it will be necessary for Maduro to address these issues and find a way to help boost the economy. Maduro will need to focus on rebuilding its petroleum industry. Venezuela has one of the largest oil reserves in the world, yet oil exports have decreased significantly and there has been a significant increase in Venezuelan import of fuel products from the United States over the past decade.
The United States relies on the import of foreign oil that comes mostly from Saudi Arabia. This lengthy transit time leads to an increase in oil prices, an issue of extreme important to the citizens of the United States. United States oil import needs can easily be filled with by Venezuela’s oil reserves – the largest in the world – in a transit time of only four days. This is a significant decrease in transit time and could bring down the price passed onto the consumer.
Restoring the relationship between the United States and Venezuela would benefit both countries’ economies. It would provide the United States with an energy partner whose border is much closer than that of the Middle East decreasing the price of oil and it would increase Venezuelan petroleum exports. Reverend Jesse Jackson said, “With stronger economic ties comes political stabilization.” Stabilizing the Venezuelan political atmosphere would promote foreign investment in the petroleum industry further improving the economy.
Alicia Guber is a 1L at the University of Denver and incoming Alumni Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy