The US and Venezuela meet secretly before the expiration of sanctions against the oil industry

US officials met secretly this week with members of President Nicolás Maduro's Administration to maintain their commitment to negotiations on democratic reforms, as the deadline to reinstate sanctions against Venezuela's oil industry approaches.

Representatives of the Government of Joe Biden and Venezuela, including Daniel Erikson of the United States National Security Council, and Maduro's main negotiator, Jorge Rodríguez, met on Tuesday, April 9 in Mexico City to discuss the electoral conditionsaccording to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The same day, Colombian President Gustavo Petro flew to Caracas with US backing to meet with Maduro for nearly three hours, before sitting down with opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales the next morning. The visit came after Colombia unusually criticized Maduro for block the participation of several candidates opposition in the July 28 elections.

The US National Security Council declined to comment. Venezuela's Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This Thursday, Colombia's interim foreign minister, Luis Gilberto Murillo, said that the Petro Administration was in constant contact with the US regarding regional issues, including Venezuela. In a radio interview, Murillo said that Colombia will always play a constructive role within the framework of diplomatic channels.

Maduro has been testing the limits of an agreement with the opposition backed by the US last year. María Corina Machado, who won the opposition primaries in October, and Corina Yoris, have been banned from running in this year's presidential race.

The repeated offenses have put Washington in an increasingly uncomfortable situation: whether to reimpose sanctions on oil and gas during an election year in which migration has become a key issue for American voters.

If the suspension is lifted, Venezuela could lose 2 billion dollars in oil revenues by the end of 2024, according to Luis Bárcenas, director of the economic firm Ecoanalítico, based in Caracas. From October to March, the license has allowed the Maduro government to earn an additional $740 million in oil sales, according to Eduardo Fortuny, director of Dinámica Venezuela, a Caracas-based consulting firm.

Murillo, who helped organize the meeting with Rosales, said Thursday that he has also been speaking confidentially with Machado.

The US has urged Venezuela's neighbors to pressure Maduro to come back into line. Venezuelan and US authorities agreed to meet this week. They met on February 23, before the Maduro Government called early elections and prevented Machado and Yoris from registering.

Francisco Palmieri, head of diplomatic mission for Venezuela, joined the U.S. delegation, the people said. Deputy National Security Advisor Jennifer Daskal also attended the meeting.

Still, much about the election remains unfinished, including the involvement of reliable election observers, who will visit Venezuela this week.