What is behind the changes in US policy towards Cuba and Venezuela?

After insisting for a long time with sanctions, reproaches and extreme pressure, the United States began to relax its policy towards two of its biggest Latin American antagonists: Cuba and Venezuela.

Washington separately announced this week that it would ease its restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, as well as negotiations with the main US oil company in Venezuela.

The measures are limited and are far from assuming a normalization of US relations with the governments of both countries.

A controversial summit

The announcements from Washington came as the Biden administration prepares to host the ninth Summit of the Americas next month in Los Angeles.

The prelude to the conclave is marked by struggles and a risk of a boycott by some presidents due to the probable exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, countries that the US has suggested it would leave out because it considers them autocratic.

The US has responded that it has yet to make the final decision on the guests and opened a dialogue with López Obrador about his claim.

In the Biden government they deny that this controversy over the summit has any relationship with the policy changes towards Cuba and Venezuela.

“The timing of this I would say is completely separate from what the Mexican president has said regarding Cuba,” a senior US government official told reporters Tuesday about the sanctions relief on Venezuela.

The official said that the measures, which include a “limited” authorization for the US oil company Chevron to negotiate possible future activities with Venezuela, seek to support a restart of dialogue between the government of Nicolás Maduro and his opponents.

He also pointed out that the Biden government had spent months preparing its new policy towards Cuba, which authorizes commercial flights to cities on the island beyond Havana and suspends the limit of US$1,000 per quarter on remittances.

However, some analysts see a clear link between these changes and the region’s criticism of the Summit of the Americas to be held June 6-10.

“It is a sign that the Biden administration does not want to reach the summit empty-handed,” says Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American program at the Wilson Center, an independent analysis center in Washington, to BBC Mundo.

“The obvious country”

Despite the loosening of restrictions on Cuba and Venezuela, analysts consider it unlikely that Biden will finally invite both countries to the Los Angeles conclave.

Domestic political reasons also weigh in on this: the presence of Cuban or Venezuelan authorities in the US would cause internal rejection months before the mid-term elections in November.

Others believe that the US sees in Venezuela, the country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world, an opportunity to lower the price of oil, which soared after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

In March, as the US pushed sanctions on Russian oil, Biden envoys made a surprise trip to Venezuela for private talks with Maduro, a Moscow ally who has said he is willing to increase oil production.

Venezuela released two US prisoners after that meeting, which also drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats in Washington.

Now the idea gains strength for some that the West’s conflict with Russia has also moved US policy towards Venezuela.

“The visit in March (to Maduro) was part of a global look at how to substitute oil from Russia to the world with production elsewhere,” says Arnson. “And in Latin America, the obvious country is Venezuela.”

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