Steve Forbes: The US Leaving Venezuela’s Oil Sector Only Benefits Russia and China

Some U.S, government officials are pressuring American businesses to pull out of Venezuela in the noble effort to oust the murderous and illegitimate regime of “President” Nicolas Maduro. But in the case of U.S. energy companies, we should think twice. The reason is simple: China is ready with plentiful cash and expertise to move in as our petroleum companies move out. Russia and Cuba are also ready to pounce. Do we really want Beijing, Moscow and Havana to get their hands on Venezuela’s oil resources? Once we leave, we’ll be in a very difficult position to get back in.

As Ken Blackwell, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, recently said, “If American energy companies are forced to cease operations and forfeit billions in equipment and other assets…the Russians [and the Chinese] will simply move in to take control – and bolster Maduro.”

Most Americans don’t realize how significant Venezuela is to America’s energy production, nor do most of us appreciate our long-established history with this now-troubled country. The partnership between the United States and Venezuela’s critical energy industry is vital to protecting America’s energy security.

Venezuela controls oil reserves containing more than 300 billion barrels, the largest oil fields in the world. American energy companies have worked in partnership with the country for decades, helping to build and maintain Venezuela’s energy industry.

A good portion of Venezuela’s production is regularly exported to the United States. Oil production, however, has significantly dropped over the past several years because of the country’s economic and social collapse. Still, the oil reserves of Venezuela represent the country’s best chance for recovery and renewed prosperity – if the United States maintains its presence there.

President Donald Trump recently granted temporary waivers allowing American energy companies to continue operations in Venezuela. This temporary waiver should be extended for the foreseeable future so America’s presence in Venezuela remains strong positions us to help a new democratic government enact free-market reforms.

Allowing hostile foreign countries the chance to establish more of a foothold in Venezuela and to tap 300-plus billion barrels of oil places America’s energy security at high risk. To prevent competing nations from moving in and taking control of Venezuela’s energy industry, it’s imperative President Trump let American energy companies continue day-to-day operations indefinitely.

America has a relationship with Venezuela dating back to the 1920’s. Key American industries, like energy, should remain in place to act as a stabilizing force with a new government, and to help restore a region devastated by decades of failed socialist governance and brutal dictators.

Venezuela’s socialist government has descended into complete chaos. Legitimate businesses and industrial operations are disappearing as violent drug cartels, communist paramilitary groups and other criminal factions now control large swaths of the country.

If America pulls out, we would likely watch the country further deteriorate and see millions of people succumb to the criminal forces and corrupt government officials who have absolutely no regard for human rights.

After years of price controls and socialist mismanagement, citizens struggle to buy basic food items. Seventy-five percent of residents say they don’t receive water regularly; many hospitals lack basic supplies – disinfectants, medicine and ultrasound machines. The murder rate has spiked to 15 times the global average.

As expatriate Daniel DiMartino says, “The average person is malnourished, and the poorest are forced to choose between walking thousands of miles to Columbia or staying in their home country and starving.” Millions of citizens have been forced to flee.

The bottom line couldn’t be starker: removing America’s presence in the country would offer hostile nations control of a vast global energy asset as well as give unfriendly nations a decisive strategic advantage over the United States. If America leaves Venezuela, we imperil our national security and, in the vacuum, a far more volatile global energy landscape emerges.

Steve Forbes. Photo Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Steve Forbes is chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media and is host of the new podcast “Steve Forbes: What’s Ahead.”

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