US refiner Citgo emerges as key to Venezuela’s power battle
New York: The US and dozens of other countries may have declared that Nicolas Maduro is no longer the legitimate president of Venezuela, but that has not loosened his grip on power. Maduro still controls the military, despite scattered defections. He has the loyalty of the Supreme Court. And he has rendered the oppositioncontrolled National Assembly powerless by setting up a rival constitutional assembly.
But Maduro stands to lose one crucial lever of power: Houston-based refining company Citgo, a wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuelan state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, known by its acronym PDVSA. Americans know Citgo for its familiar red triangle logo at its more than 5,000 branded gas stations and the iconic sign visible from Fenway Park in Boston. Venezuelans know it as one of their collapsing economy’s last lifelines.
The Trump administration is moving to help transfer its control to Juan Guaido, the National Assembly leader recognized by the US and other countries as Venezuela’s legitimate president.
Such a feat would give Guaido a slice of de facto power.
“It’s more than symbolic,” said William Burke-White, a professor of international law at the University of Pennsylvania who served in the State Department under the Obama Administration. “An alternative power is starting to emerge. This is about creating a world where there is another entity contesting every point of authority that Maduro has.”
US refiners like Citgo are among the few customers paying cash for Venezuelan crude. Oil shipments to Venezuela’s other big customers, China and Russia, are usually taken as repayment for billions of dollars in debt. So the cash from Citgo has become a lifeline over the past two years as Venezuela’s oil output has plummeted amid chronic underinvestment in PDVSA and oil prices have dropped from historic highs.
Venezuelan Bolivarian Army soldiers stand guard at the Tienditas International Bridge that links Colombia and Venezuela, near Urena, Venezuela