Venezuela represents everything that the U.S. opposes in the region: socialism, anti-imperialism, economic independence via energy exports and a viable ally for China, Russia, Iran and other countries that oppose the hegemonic designs of Washington.
by Eric Draitser
Part 2 - Target: Venezuela
There is a misconception spreading through the Beltway like an airborne virus, infectious in its obliviousness to reality: the idea that the administration of President Donald Trump is so bogged down by scandal and controversy that it cannot achieve any geopolitical and strategic objectives. In fact, the opposite is true. Like a cornered animal, Trump and his team are exceedingly dangerous, both in their unpredictability and, strangely enough, also in their predictability.
And when it comes to Venezuela, their strategy is transparent.
Oil reigns supreme in the minds of Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the rest of the administration. In the case of Venezuela, oil remains the lifeblood of its economy. So in a very real sense, the White House and State Department’s interests converge with the economic imperatives of corporate America in the Bolivarian Republic.
Tillerson represents perhaps the perfect embodiment of U.S. government attitudes toward Venezuela. A slick oil man through and through, Tillerson has long sought to destabilize Venezuela in an attempt to reassert ExxonMobil’s supremacy in the country.
Venezuela’s recent rocky history begins with Chavez’s nationalization of the oil sector under the state oil company PDVSA in 2007. The Chavez government offered ExxonMobil book value for assets that it intended to assume control over, while the Tillerson-led company demanded market value, which they priced at roughly $15 billion. Eventually, the World Bank’s arbitration court ordered Venezuela to pay $1.6 billion to ExxonMobil.
But ExxonMobil’s anger at Caracas was certainly not assuaged with that settlement agreement. In fact, the following decade saw ExxonMobil step up efforts to destabilize Venezuela’s socialist government using a variety of tactics.
None have been more potent than Venezuela’s border dispute with Guyana. At the heart of this border dispute is energy and the billions of dollars in profits likely to be extracted from the offshore territory. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “The Guyana Suriname Basin [is] 2nd in the world for prospectivity among the world’s unexplored basins and 12th for oil among all the world’s basins – explored and unexplored.” The basin, which stretches from eastern Venezuela to the shores of northern Brazil, is one of the major prizes in the world for energy corporations and governments alike.
Indeed, the USGS estimates that roughly 15 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 42 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves lie under the basin, just waiting to be extracted. Such staggering economic potential has made the territorial waters off Venezuela and Guyana highly sought after, especially since contesting border claims make legal obstacles to exploration far more surmountable, as they allow companies to deal with a compliant government in Georgetown, rather than an independent one in Caracas.
So it should come as no surprise that Tillerson and ExxonMobil have been backing the Guyanese government. Venezuelan officials say their support has included providing financial support to Guyanese President David Granger’s election campaign in 2015. Of course, ExxonMobil has denied these claims. But the company cannot deny the fact that, as the Huffington Post reported:
“Under Secretary Clinton, the State Department set up a program called the Energy Governance and Capacity Initiative. The program aims to both promote fossil development and prevent the ‘resource curse’ by providing ‘independent oversight’ of the oil and gas industry in nascent oil states. The program is currently helping the Guyanese government write profit sharing agreements, environmental regulations, and develop a strong rule of law to counterbalance corporate power.”
In other words, the U.S. State Department oversees the program that is literally writing the regulatory and financial architecture that will govern energy extraction in Guyana. And Tillerson, the former CEO for ExxonMobil, is the top official at the State Department. The conflict of interest is clear as day.
Indeed, ExxonMobil has effectively made Guyana into a subsidiary. As the Washington Post noted:
“…countries such as Guyana that have no existing oil industry are considered ‘frontier’ locations, and typically offer the most lucrative terms to foreign companies willing to invest. Guyana’s foreign partners stand to earn 60 to 65 percent of profits… a far larger share than what more established nations are willing to offer investors.”
Does anyone really believe that the State Department is not going to target Venezuela when it is led by a man who has fomented conflict with Venezuela, is raking in billions from Venezuela’s neighbor and has a long-standing vendetta against the Bolivarian Republic?
In fact, Tillerson’s oil goons have already uncorked the champagne numerous times this year, having announced multiple oil finds off the coast that are worth billions. Naturally, this is as much political as economic. For Tillerson and Trump, every barrel of oil extracted from Guyana is a thumb in the eye of the Venezuelan government.