US re­finer Citgo emerges as key to Venezuela’s power bat­tle

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - WORLD - —AP

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.”

Valu­able as­set

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

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