Datanalisis President Luis Vicente León spoke with Hart Energy to discuss Venezuela, including the Caribbean country’s oil sector’s performance under ongoing U.S. sanctions and the politics that dominate the nation.

In a wage ranging analysis, León discussed the effectiveness of sanctions, Chinese influence, Chavismo—the political ideology established by Hugo Chávez—and opposition candidate María Corina Machado’s efforts to run for the presidency even though she is banned from holding public office.

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest crude oil reserves and the seventh largest natural gas reserves, continues to suffer from economic and political crises which have led to the departure of over 7 million citizens in recent years. Washington—which imposed oil sector sanctions on Venezuela in 2019 after President Nicolás Maduro claimed victory in a 2018 election the U.S. deemed fraudulent—continues to push for what it calls “free and fair” elections.

Pietro D. Pitts: Why is Venezuela’s energy supply of oil and gas important for world energy markets?

Luis Vicente León: I think it's important to understand that Venezuela has the most important oil mines [or deposits] in the world and one of the most important in gas as well. And even though it is true that the United States can handle problems in the oil or gas sector with other countries around the world, it's clear that after the Ukraine war we have taken for granted what is going to happen in the future with a supply of energy. And Venezuela is so important in order to grant it this supply, not just for the United State, but for Europe, for example. And it's important to understand the Chinese understand perfectly the opportunity to control these minerals in order to increase, for example, their BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India and China] strategy, et cetera.

The most important issue is that Venezuela in the past even with Chávez fighting against the United States never stopped sending oil to the United States. And, Maduro is not sending oil to the United States because he's sanctioned.

The question is: are the sanctions working? Is, you know, it interesting and intelligent to maintain sanctions in Venezuela?

The answer is … Maduro is still in power, and is maybe stronger than in 2019 when we [the U.S.] launched the sanctions in Venezuela. The only people affected with sanctions are the normal people in Venezuela. You know, Venezuelan life is becoming worse. But in reality, Maduro is still a power, controlling power, and by the way, making business with the Chinese, sending oil cheaper to China, participating in the black market, et cetera. We have to solve this and the United States is the only one who can do it in the future.

PDP: Does the Venezuelan opposition have a chance to win presidential elections in 2024 with María Corina Machado banned from public office?

LVL: It's clear that María Corina Machado is the favorite leader in Venezuela for the next primary election and presidential election. I think everybody knows it right now.

But the big question is, is it possible that María Corina runs for the presidency in Venezuela? The answer is absolutely clear, no. It's absolutely impossible that Maduro allows María Corina to go to this election. Why? First of all, because she's the favorite one. As soon as she became the most important leader, it's a risk, a very high risk for Maduro in any election.

But [there's] a second important reason. María Corina Machado is the head of the radicals in Venezuela. She went to the international community to ask for a military intervention to kick out of power President Chávez who is the most important leader for the Chavismo -- [a political ideology and movement which was against imperialism and favored socialism over capitalism]. It's impossible for Maduro to present María Corina as a possible leader for the internal Chavismo in Venezuela. So, she's banned and she's going to [keep being] banned in the future.

The second important question is what's Maria Corina going to do in front of this?

Of course, being very radical, María Corina [is] trying to create the environment [whereby she tries to convey that she] is the most important leader and the people have to defend her on the street and create some kind of ungovernability in Venezuela. But the reality is that the Venezuelan environment is not ready to do it again. We did it in the past with Leopoldo López, with [Juan] Guaidó, and the result was a disaster. The only possibility in reality is that María Corina makes some agreements in the future to continue going to the election with all the [other opposition candidates], all the leaders who Maduro has allowed to participate in order to capitalize you know on the force of the people, the energy of the Venezuelan [people]. Otherwise, it's almost impossible to imagine that the opposition is going to participate united in this election, and the possibility to win is very low.

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