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 3 - Oil as a geopolitical weapon
However, it would be a mistake to assume that U.S. policy toward Venezuela revolves exclusively around the profits to be made by ExxonMobil and other oil companies. While that is undoubtedly a factor, ultimately it is about political leverage and strategy vis-à-vis rival powers and power blocs.
Consider the fact that Venezuela’s oil reserves alone account for roughly one-quarter (24.8 percent) of all proven crude oil reserves within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This makes Venezuela hugely influential when it comes to decisions about oil production and, consequently, global oil prices. And when you couple Venezuela with Iran, a key ally of the Bolivarian Republic, both countries together account for nearly 40 percent of OPEC crude. Add to that non-OPEC member Russia, which accounts for 12.4 percent of global crude production, just behind Saudi Arabia and the U.S., and you begin to see just how significant these three countries are to global oil prices and production.
One must also consider Saudi Arabia, which closely trails Venezuela in terms of proven crude reserves (22 percent of OPEC reserves). The centrality of Venezuela should be immediately apparent. Installing a right-wing, pro-U.S. government in Venezuela would mean that the U.S. would effectively control, or at least have significant influence over, nearly 85 percent of OPEC production (Venezuela and the Gulf monarchies), thereby isolating Iran within the grouping. Put differently, Venezuela is the only thing keeping OPEC from being a plaything of Washington and Wall Street.
Russia and China also figure centrally in this calculation. With Venezuela under Washington’s boot, Moscow and Beijing would be significantly weaker, as they would have no influence over OPEC. Nor would they be able to satisfy each other’s needs alone – Russia needs consumer goods and imports far beyond what China can provide, and China needs energy and other raw materials far beyond what Russia can offer.
In effect, regime change in Venezuela would cut the legs out from under Moscow and Beijing.
An instructive example can be found in Venezuela’s neighbor, Brazil. An oil exporter almost as large as Venezuela in terms of production – Brazil accounts for 3 percent of global crude production, while Venezuela accounts for 3.1 percent – Brazil saw a quick political transformation in the form of a coup against the democratically-elected government of Dilma Rousseff, a coup that was orchestrated by right-wing elements in the country and their backers in the U.S.
And with the takeover of the government by the right wing and Goldman Sachs, Brazil’s oil exporting potential flipped overnight from a liability to an asset for Washington and Wall Street. Trump and Tillerson seem to have a similar vision for Venezuela.