It sounds bizarre: a self-declared “anti-imperialist” government trying to cozy up with its alleged nemesis. But there are more and more signs that that’s what Nicolás Maduro wants to do with Donald Trump. Seeking influence in Washington D.C., Venezuela has just used its main asset in the States, CITGO, to hire Avenue Strategies, the lobbyist firm of Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

According to this report by Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel, Citgo has agreed to pay $25,000 a month to Avenue Strategies for its services, to “…help provide access to the Trump administration amid calls for the U.S. to seize the company’s assets as a way to expand the impact of sanctions against Venezuela.”

Barry Bennett, Co-Founder of Avenue Strategies told Politico that the deal with CITGO is more of a sub-contract work by another political-affairs firm called VantageKnight. He also said this:

“I don’t work for Venezuela. I work for a Houston-based company that has three plants in America and produces 19 percent of America’s gasoline. It’s an American company, Americans work there.”

But hours after the story came out, news broke that Lewandowski will resign his post because of Avenue Strategies’ recent involvements with foreign clients (including CITGO.)

And that’s not the only problem the CITGO contract has caused: C.J. Gimenez, an attorney who joined the firm last month (and son of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez), quit in protest for the CITGO deal. “I will personally never represent the interests of the Maduro regime, which reflects the worst there is of all humanity”, he wrote to the Miami Herald.

Why is CITGO hiring lobbyists at this time? Seems like they’re prepping for a battle in the Capitol. This week, a group of U.S. Senators led by Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Ben Cardin presented the “Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017“, which include proposals of new actions by the State, Justice and Treasury Departments.

If PDVSA defaults, the Russian government (owner of Rosneft) would control CITGO and, ergo, part of critical energy infrastructure in the United States.

The bill also addresses CITGO, given that 49.9% of its shares are used as collateral in the 1.5 billion dollar loan deal made by its parent company PDVSA and Russian oil giant Rosneft late last year. If PDVSA defaults, the Russian government (owner of Rosneft) would control CITGO and, ergo, part of critical energy infrastructure in the United States.

Members of both houses of Congress are alarmed: A group of U.S. Senators wrote a letter last month to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnunchin, which has not received any response. A couple of U.S. Representatives, Republican Jeff Duncan and Democrat Albio Sires wrote their own letter to Mnunchin as well, asking him to review the deal through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), over possible national security concerns.

In the event that the Venezuelan government defaults on its debt obligation to Rosneft, the Russian government could easily become the second-largest foreign owner of US domestic refinery capacity… Such a development would give the Russians more control over oil and gas prices worldwide, inhibit US energy security and undermine broader US geopolitical efforts.

CITGO has spent lots of money on Washington lobbyists during the Maduro years, which would explain why the company has abandoned other PR-related programs like “Joe-4-Oil”.

Back in 2014, CITGO (along with law firm Squire Patton Boggs) achieved a partial victory when then Senator for Louisiana Mary Landrieu blocked a bill about human rights in Venezuela, using as an excuse keeping the jobs on CITGO-owned refinery in Lake Charles. But it was short-lived: Landrieu lost her seat months later and the bill was finally passed at the same time.

I will personally never represent the interests of the Maduro regime, which reflects the worst there is of all humanity.

For the record, Squire Patton Boggs is still helping out Maduro’s closest from time to time.

It’s important to remember that all the money spent by the Venezuelan government on lobbyists, lawyers or buying full-page ads in the New York Times is money that could go instead to get the food, medicines and other supplies that our people so desperately need. Opportunity cost, economists call it. But it seems like buying influence to stay in power is the top priority for them.

And tear gas. Lots of tear gas.

34 COMMENTS

  1. This proves that international pressure is very important for the regime, if not they would not spend so much money on lobbying.

  2. When is the next debt payment due? Oñe has to believe that Maduro has about run out of Venezuelan treasure to hock.

    • Bloomberg has a chart, April payment was just under 3 Billion. May and August payments are under 0.5 Billion, but October and November each exceed 1.5 Billion.

  3. I wonder how much money the Maduro regime actually spend to keep themselves in power, it must be in the magnitude of millions of dollars when including the policing, spying and repressive state.
    How long before they run out of money ?

  4. Wow… I didn’t think it could be done, but, TCC is going to try and pin this on POTUS Donald J. Trump one way or another. Its just gotta be!!!

    Couldn’t find even a shred of evidence that Trump was Putin’s puppet (unlike Hillary/Obama) and we now see how that story has completely fallen apart.

    But, being a lobbiest for Citgo (which has significant US investments) makes them instantly evil since Corey works there.

    How about we all take a deep breath. How is anything with Citgo (which is not basically in the hands of creditors anyhow) going to have any effect on the lack of medicines in VZ?

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/venezuela-creditor-seeks-asset-freeze-on-u-s-refiner-citgo-1491867718

    • Couldn’t find even a shred of evidence that Trump was Putin’s puppet

      If only, I dunno, a former prosecutor could take us through this shredlessness…

    • Not a shred. None. Nothing on the record. Shredless. *Nothing* to go on.

      An overwhelming, overpowering absence of shreds. Escasez de shreds. Not a one!

      • Yeah… about that now royally debunked claim… (next time, try finding a link that is not so old-busted)

    • Dude, Trump made entire rallies chant “Drain the Swamp! Drain the Swamp!”. Once in power, one of his top henchmen goes and puts up a lobbying firm . Another one had to resign once it was discovered he was a lobbyist on behalf of Turkey/Russia.

      The effect Citgo has on the Venezuelan crisis is the utter lack of liquidity the regime has. Their US-based assets are their main meal ticket. If anything happens to it (repo, embargo, default), it would cascade into a crisis within PDVSA, and thus PSUV itself. What happens afterwards is anyone’s guess.

      As for Trump himself, what scares me about him is the fact that he doesn’t give a damn whether Venezuela collapses or not. Sanctions or no sanctions are the same thing in his mind: nothing. He’d be shaking hands with Tarek and Diosnarco if it means getting a photo-op out of it (plus a chance for a Trump-branded resort on Margarita Island). He doesn’t believe in anything or anyone but himself.

      • Been reading the chronicles for 2-3 years, and never did I hear anyone (including you Erisie) rant about Obama giving a damn about VZ. And if you did not get the memo, VZ has been going down the tubes for years. Now, you and so many others here wet their pants at every opportunity, regardless of pertinence.

        Bring your arguments, discuss the issues, and keep your petty politics to yourself.

        • “Birds of a feather…” At least Chavez/Maduro admitted to Marxism/Leninism/Stalinism/Maoism/Castroism.

        • That’s not true.

          But Obama isn’t responsible now. The guy responsible now has the ability, along with other willing partners in the region, to put serious pressure on this regime. He’s doing nothing. Let’s be clear about that. He’s busy instead alienating said partners, and admiring kleptocrats and autocrats, including himself.

          • Canuck – I get it. You think the USA is the be all – end all. What about the 28 EU Countries, or the 30+ Latin Countries, or your very wealthy Canada? Where is the outrage? Where is the stinging remarks? or are your eyes star struck over Trudeau’s socks?

          • Dale:
            Been reading the chronicles for 2-3 years, and never did I hear anyone (including you Erisie) rant about Obama giving a damn about V.
            Canucklehead
            That’s not true.

            Please provide us links where YOU have criticized Obama. Inquiring minds want to know. Your criticism of Trump has been virtually non-stop.

          • Bóludo, inquiring minds have better things to do, but I think the comments, including my brilliant observations, are archived. Maybe between you and Dale you can retrieve some nuggets of my wisdom. I promise you, you will not find from me: a) a Bernie endorsement; b) a Sandinista endorsement, c) a Maduro or Chavez endorsement.

            So you see, we have much in common.

            Write some letters to your Congress for me, if you have not already.

            Dale, you’re the super power. Use your super fucking power.

          • Canuck, if I had superpowers, your oil sand polluting, carbon spouting, hypocritical Trudeau (and you) would be zapped. But, I am only mortal.

          • Dale:Been reading the chronicles for 2-3 years, and never did I hear anyone (including you Erisie) rant about Obama giving a damn about V.

            Canucklehead to Dale : That’s not true.

            Boludo to Canucklehead : Prove to us that YOU have criticized Obama.

            Canucklehead to Boludo: That’s not my job. (Subtext: as I know that the probability of my ever having made such a statement is close to zero, I am not going to bother to waste my time. YOU waste YOUR time.)
            Further subtext: Canucklehead has made a statement -“That’s not true” – which he knows that with respect to his own statements, is unadulterated nonsense- pure coprolite, as it were.

            For example , there is Unadulterated Canucklehead.
            I ask myself similar questions about the supporters of chavez and the supporters of the (current) republican party. Are they the beneficiaries of a corrupted system, the uneducated and manipulated, or a combination of both?

            Which is why I tend to ignore anything Canucklehead says about US politics.

            OTOH, when Canucklehead talks about Venezuela, he is worth listening to.
            I know many who grew up in the same conditions and in the same place as Chavez. They became engineers, a doctor, a farmer, a divorciado struggling to support kids on a small wage, a lawyer, a university professor. Some did not advance. Chavez is not the articulation of a class struggle so much as a personal ambition which found the language of class struggle as its means of advancement. He could have been an evangelico or a salesman. He’s done much to advance a small group of loyal supporters and family, little if anything of lasting value for the throngs whose hopes he has played on, and much lasting damage in terms of enabling a culture of mistrust, corruption, violence and impunity. In the end yes, what stands out is the money. The conspicuous privilege and consumption cuts through all the ideological bullshit and reveals chavismo to anyone needing any reminder as a complete fraud. Lastima. They will build a monument in Sabaneta and that will employ some people for a period of time.

            Say no more.

        • In reply to Dale, Canuck, Boludo and the rest of the passengers:

          “and never did I hear anyone (including you Erisie) rant about Obama giving a damn about VZ. And if you did not get the memo, VZ has been going down the tubes for years.”
          And what about #ObamaDerogaElDecretoYa? That (toothless) decree surely served to create a juicy opportunity for Maduro to portray himself as the victim of an imperialistic persecution. If there was any policy on the Obama administration, as in many other issues, it was one of contention: since the 2015 election proved to the international community there was a working democracy in Venezuela, they can sort their issues by themselves. One less headache for the US. That Maduro went full autocrat with the “Amazonas electoral fraud/AN contempt” bullshit on 2016 was something else entirely.

          ” you and so many others here wet their pants at every opportunity, regardless of pertinence.”
          What is this supposed to mean? Donald Trump is the President of the United States. He possesses a unique position to exert direct pressure on the chavista dictatorship, through sanctions, prosecutions and other means. Means that are not directly available to those “28 EU Countries, or the 30+ Latin Countries, or very wealthy Canada”, mainly because chavismo enjoys investing (and enjoying the good life) directly in the US.
          Apart from the sanctions against El-Aissami, Trump’s actions have been a silly photo-op with Lilian and a canned comment about something or other being “a disaster”. That’s not policy, just a collection of actions, most of them utterly worthless.
          Meanwhile, we’ve heard about the donation to the inaugural committee (a first for Citgo, by the way) and Lewandowski’s lobbying contract, which raises the question whether Trump has an interest in the regime’s survival, similar in nature to the current situation of the Wall Street Venny bondholders.
          In front of all of this, how can you have the chutzpah to say this is “not pertinent”? How do have the gall to call this “petty politics”?

          I will repeat myself: what makes Donald Trump uniquely dangerous is the toxic mix of his utter ignorance about politics and policy, and utter indifference to any issue that isn’t Making Donald Trump Great.

      • For those that actually follow politics, should know that Trump campaigned on a platform of Isolationism. He follow thru by reducing the budget of the Department of State, and hearing Tillerson latest declarations it seems that would be the case.
        The candidate most likely to oust the Maduro from the get-go was Hillary.
        She has experience in international affairs being Secretary of State and has the track record for toppling authoritarian regimes to prove it.
        When Trump won the election, Francisco Toro short and self explanatory comment was “We are fucked !”
        Trump is still learning the basic ropes of governance, macroeconomics, diplomacy, international affairs, etc. A though learning curve for a 70 year old. We have to be patient and hope for the best.

        • “The candidate most likely to oust the Maduro from the get-go was Hillary.”

          Hillary and Obama didn’t do anything about Venezuela since 2009 because, according to their supporters, they didn’t have enough time, as they clearly couldn’t handle all the world’s political matters in just nearly one decade. Yet, those some supporters can’t understand why Trump hasn’t toppled Maduro yet in his very long three-month term as president. Sounds a bit illogical, but they must be right somehow.

    • You didn’t think it could be done? It is done all the time at CC! There isn’t a tree or a corner the Donald Trump boogieman isn’t hiding behind that the Perpetually Indignant want to blame something on. I guess the adage is true… if you want to look thin, hang around fat people. If your country is in a mess, it is far more fun to peg the blame on America’s “unpopular” American President than the sloven pig and his acolytes running Venezuela. I guess that horse has been beaten to death, though.

  5. Maduro cares about the US for 1 reason. They are the 1 entity that could end his regime in 1 second. The only thing that needs to happen is an oil embargo or a bomb and its over…

  6. While folks argue about Trump, today’s Wall St Journal has a moving story about hunger in Venezuela.

  7. Bolibastards have to protect their precious stolen assets and dollars, they might spend one million in lobbying to keep safe other five million.

  8. In what year did Hugo Chavez begin his confiscation of the assets of foreign corporations? 2006? 2007? What were the total claims? 40B? – 50B? All of them filed their cases at ICSID and few, if any, were able to reclaim their stolen assets. Most of them had their eyes on Citgo, but the attorney’s in New York and Washington hired by PDVSA did their jobs well. If the process at ICSID is allowed to take more than 10 years to complete, and for all of these claims it is a fact, then ICSID is a fraud as well.

  9. What should one expect of the “honorable” profession of lobbying? But, if pressed, they deny/shape shift/jump ship, as above. So far as Trump being influenced re Venezuela, I doubt it. The horse is already out of the barn….

  10. From the article ““I don’t work for Venezuela. I work for a Houston-based company that has three plants in America and produces 19 percent of America’s gasoline.”

    There is no way Citgo produces even close to 19% of the gasoline in the US. There crue capacity is about 750,000 barrels per day and the US refiners over 15 million barrels per day, so roughly 5%.

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