By Diego Ore
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Venezuela’s government and opposition have asked the United Nations to manage a billion-dollar fund now held in foreign banks that will be gradually released to help end a humanitarian crisis in the oil-rich nation combat, delegates announced in Mexico City on Saturday.
Sources told Reuters last month that the frozen funds totaled more than $3 billion.
Money held in Venezuelan accounts abroad has been frozen by US and European banks after the United States tightened sanctions under President Donald Trump’s administration to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to move towards to make free elections.
Talks between Maduro’s government and its political opponents resumed on Saturday in Mexico City, mediated by Norway, after being put on hold for more than a year.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the talks as “an important step in restoring democracy to Venezuelans.
“We will expect the parties to reach lasting agreements that set the stage for free and fair presidential elections in 2024,” he said on Twitter.
Maduro also released a statement on Twitter, saying: “We will always seek dialogue with the entire Venezuelan society. We continue to take important steps for the well-being of our country.”
Following the announcement of a fund managed by the United Nations, the US Treasury Department licensed Chevron, the second largest US oil company, to expand operations in Venezuela and allowed it to import Venezuelan crude into the United States.
The government delegation was led by Congress President Jorge Rodriguez of Venezuela’s ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV), and the opposition group was led by politician Gerardo Blyde.
Maduro had said the aim of the talks was to recover the “kidnapped” resources for public investment: “Then we’ll see what other issues can be discussed.”
The funds will help stabilize the country’s power grid, improve education infrastructure and deal with the effects of this year’s deadly rains and floods.
It is part of a broad agenda that includes US sanctions on Venezuela, the terms of the next presidential election and the status of hundreds of political prisoners – although these issues will not be discussed in this round of talks.
“This agreement provides the blueprint for how to ensure further progress,” the European Union said in a statement.
According to UN estimates, more than 7.1 million Venezuelans left their country this year, many emigrating to other Latin American countries or the United States as Venezuela struggles with high inflation and food and medicine shortages. According to UN estimates, more than half of Venezuelan migrants do not have access to three meals a day.
In Venezuela, a survey by local universities this year showed that about 78% of the population was concerned about the lack of food, compared to 88% in 2021.
Some Venezuelan and US critics have expressed concerns that the liquidity injection could bolster Maduro’s standing ahead of the country’s 2024 elections.
(Reporting by Diego Ore Oviedo, Vivian Sequera and Sarah Morland; Editing by Diane Craft and Leslie Adler)