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Venezuela reminds us: War can turn foes into (partial) friends

U.S.-Venezuela relations could be thawing as the U.S. looks for leverage in its efforts to end Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


Whether it’s the threat of nuclear annihilation or economic devastation, there are all sorts of reasons why sworn enemies might link up. 

In recent weeks, tensions between the United States and Venezuela, an oil-rich Russian ally, have thawed — even if only slightly — amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Renewed attempts at diplomacy between the two countries show just how quickly wars can alter the incentives for some adversaries to at least consider collaborating where their interests align. On Tuesday, the White House announced the release of two Americans who had been wrongfully detained in Venezuela, one since 2017.

The newly freed men, Gustavo Cardenas and Jorge Fernandez, are “fathers who lost precious time with their children and everyone they love, and their families have suffered every day of their absence,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. 

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's president, speaks during a news conference in Caracas on Aug. 16, 2021.
Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela's president, speaks during a news conference in Caracas on Aug. 16, 2021. Manaure Quintero / Bloomberg via Getty Images, file

Conversations over the weekend between U.S. officials and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government came amid a wave of U.S. sanctions levied against Russia’s oil industry and ahead of Biden’s Tuesday announcement of a ban on Russian oil imports.

Officials reportedly discussed potentially allowing Venezuela to sell some of its oil in the U.S., a move that would help stave off some of the inevitable price increases Americans will see at the gas pump as a result of the sanctions on Russia. The prisoner negotiations and the oil discussions were not part of the same deal, officials said.

It was a stark reversal of policy for the U.S., which has opposed Maduro’s government for nearly a decade. Exactly seven years ago, President Barack Obama signed an executive order calling Maduro’s government a threat to national security. President Donald Trump levied heavy sanctions against Maduro’s government and referred to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s true president.

But times and circumstances change. When it comes to foreign policy, it’s an adage Americans know well

I’m reminded of The Beatles song “Yesterday.” 

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,” the song goes. “Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.”