The first Venezuelan migrants deported under the new US policy arrive | ET REALITY


The United States, ending a four-year moratorium on the return of Venezuelan migrants home, sent its first deportation flight to Caracas on Wednesday, with 127 people on board.

Later in the day, the Biden administration announced would lift some of the sanctions on Venezuela in the oil and gas sectors.

The deportation flight from Harlingen, Texas, and limited sanctions relief came a day after the administration of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and the opposition announced in Barbados that they had taken tentative steps toward free and fair elections.

A senior US administration official said the easing of some of the sanctions was a result of the partial agreement signed on Tuesday. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity during a phone call with reporters Wednesday night.

It is unclear whether the Biden administration’s promise to ease sanctions also included Maduro agreeing to the deportation of Venezuelans to his country.

Another deportation flight is scheduled to depart on Saturday, according to a U.S. official familiar with the strategy who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss domestic plans.

The resumption of deportations is unusual because the United States and Venezuela not have diplomatic relationseven as the Biden administration has demonstrated that it wants to have a greater commitment to authoritarian rule than President Donald J. Trump’s administration.

Dozens of uniformed police and intelligence agents descended on Caracas’ Simón Bolívar airport Wednesday afternoon awaiting the private charter flight, but they declined to offer details about the arrival.

Some of the officers were from the police homicide unit, which was there to determine whether any of the deportees were wanted for crimes, an official told reporters. Police vehicles lined up outside the airport and the head of the country’s immigration agency arrived to inspect the operation himself.

There did not appear to be any families at the airport waiting for passengers, and journalists gathered in the terminal did not have access to the arriving Venezuelans.

The deportees, considered “traitors to the revolution,” would likely face serious obstacles in their country, including finding work, said Patricia Andrade, founder of the Venezuela Awareness Foundation, a human rights organization in Miami, which testifies on behalf of Venezuelan immigrants who apply. political asylum.

“The Biden administration stabbed these people in the back,” Andrade said.

More than 500,000 Venezuelans have crossed the southern border of the United States in the last three years, as the economy has collapsed and political conditions have worsened, US immigration data shows.

In 2019, the Trump administration suspended air travel between the United States and Venezuela, citing conditions in the country, such as civil unrest, which threatened the safety of passengers, aircraft and crew.

On October 10, the Biden administration requested a limited waiver of the suspension in order to conduct deportation flights.

These flights were “urgently necessary” to secure U.S. borders and protect “the integrity of its immigration system,” according to a letter sent to the Department of Transportation by Blas Núñez-Neto, undersecretary of border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security. .

Rising migration from Venezuela is testing immigration systems across the hemisphere, including those in the United States, Núñez-Neto wrote.

The request followed several major immigration developments last month, including the detention of some 50,000 Venezuelans who had illegally crossed the southern border of the United States.

The continued influx was putting increasing pressure on President Biden from Democratic mayors in cities where migrants, many of them Venezuelans, were straining local resources.

And a potential obstacle to deportation was removed when Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and a staunch opponent of deporting Venezuelan immigrants, resigned from his powerful position as head of the Foreign Relations Committee after the Justice Department accused him of plotting to act. as agent of Egypt.

While Venezuela and the United States do not officially have diplomatic relations, there has been some progress. Last year, Venezuela released American hostages and weeks later, the United States granted Chevron a license for a limited expansion of energy operations in Venezuela, signaling the possible beginning of the country’s re-entry into the international oil market.

The recent easing of sanctions is not likely to have an immediate impact on global oil supplies, although it is a positive development for Maduro in an election year.

But the deportation agreement is an even bigger step, because it involves the Biden administration and the Maduro government working together and frequently.

Officials from both countries have to coordinate departure and arrival times. Venezuelan officials must provide travel documentation to citizens who will be deported. And U.S. officials will be on the flights to hand the migrants over to Venezuelan officials when they land.

“The interesting thing is that we are negotiating with a government with which we have no diplomatic relations,” said Thomas A. Shannon Jr., a former career diplomat who was the third-highest-ranking official in the State Department. “It will be very difficult to maintain the fiction that you are not in a relationship.”

Experts say regular interaction between the two governments on deportation flights helps legitimize Maduro as Venezuela’s recognized president. He was re-elected to the presidency in 2018 in an election widely considered fraudulent.

The current agreement between the United States and Venezuela calls for a couple of deportation flights per week. But if the Biden administration sees the need to add more to curb illegal crossings, Maduro now has some negotiating power, said Christopher Sabatini, senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, a research group in London.

Venezuelans have been mired in a severe economic crisis for a decade that has left store shelves empty and decimated the country’s health care and public school system. About a quarter of the country’s population has left Venezuela in recent years.

Living conditions there have become so difficult that the Biden administration offered temporary humanitarian protections to Venezuelans in 2021, and again a few weeks ago to nearly 500,000 Venezuelans who were in the United States before July 31.

The temporary protections were necessary, the Biden administration said, because “extraordinary and temporary conditions continue to prevent Venezuelan citizens from safely returning.”

Just two weeks later, the administration announced the resumption of deportation flights, although there have been no significant changes to the humanitarian situation on the ground.

Administration officials have said the United States already deports people to other troubled nations.

Isayen Herrera contributed reporting from Caracas, Venezuela, and Clifford Krauss from Mexico.

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