Doing business with dictators in Cuba and Venezuela is foreign-policy malpractice.
The Journal reported last week that the “administration is preparing to scale down sanctions” on Venezuela and “to resume pumping oil there, paving the way for a potential reopening of U.S. and European markets to oil exports from Venezuela, according to people familiar with the proposal.”
This comes on the heels of production cuts announced by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies. To the uninitiated, easing restrictions on Venezuelan oil may seem a credible attempt to lower U.S. energy prices. To the rest of us, it’s either stupid or evil—although there’s no reason it can’t be both.
Mr. Biden has a political problem. Winter is coming and fuel-oil inventories are low, especially in the Northeast. Americans are well aware of the role his green agenda plays in their hardship. Doing nothing isn’t an option.
If looking like a man of action is the objective, Venezuela, where Chevron is eager to restart oil production so it can recover what it is owed by the state, may seem like low-hanging fruit. But the country’s infrastructure is so dilapidated and its human capital so obliterated that without significant new investment it can’t bring up from the ground much more than the 600,000 barrels a day that it now claims to be producing.
Francisco Monaldi, an oil analyst at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, told me last week that he estimates that with new U.S. licenses Venezuelan output might increase by around 220,000 barrels a day—in the next year or two.
Since oil is priced on a global market and this would equal only around 0.2% of world demand, it’s hard to see how it would help American consumers. Even Biden economists must be able to understand that it’s a drop in the bucket, which is why the matter looks more like it belongs in the political department—filed under never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste.
If the Biden foreign-policy team smells an opportunity to advance “engagement” with Venezuelan despot Nicolás Maduro, it isn’t a stretch to think they’ll take it, using the fog of war in Ukraine as cover. But on the ground the hit to freedom will be substantial if the U.S. gives up its resolve to pressure Venezuela to re-establish democracy. Renewing licenses so Venezuela can export more oil to the U.S. and Europe would be a huge favor to the Maduro military dictatorship, which needs hard currency to run its repressive machine and seeks legitimacy on the world stage.
This is the kind of foreign-policy malpractice produced by national-security advisers who view efforts to promote U.S. values in dictatorships as imperialism. Mr. Maduro and Cuba’s Miguel Diaz-Canel enjoy the “noninterventionism” doctrine. In Venezuela the highest priority is getting the military dictatorship “to the table” to talk about one day holding free elections.
The Biden Cuba policy isn’t much better. The administration demonstrated its tolerance for Havana’s brutality against its own people in May by easing travel and remittance restrictions, despite the nasty July 11, 2021, crackdown on dissidents. Hundreds of political prisoners rounded up at that time languish in Cuban dungeons. Mr. Biden looks the other way.
Now comes Hurricane Ian, which apologists for the failed revolution view as a glorious opportunity to pounce on the U.S. embargo and try, yet again, to wring money out of the gringos. On Oct. 2, a community organization called the People’s Forum ran a full-page ad in the New York Times blaming U.S. sanctions for the suffering of the Cuban people and calling for U.S. aid to Havana to “help our neighbors.” Reuters reported on Oct. 7 that Cuban “government and state-run media have repeatedly referenced” the ad.
There are no restrictions on the military dictatorship’s purchases of food or medicine from the U.S. But the notorious deadbeat borrower can’t get credit from U.S. institutions. As for construction materials necessary to rebuild, they may easily be purchased in Mexico, Canada and Europe—to name a few markets. The regime must know this since a building boom in luxury hotels has been under way since at least 2016.
Plenty of Americans want to help their Cuban brethren. But Havana won’t allow private aid organizations or the U.S. government to send donations directly to Cubans. Shipments must go through a corrupt regime.
Venezuelans and Cubans face extreme want. But propping up the military dictatorships that run those countries is no way to advance their interests—or ours.