Venezuela opposition to probe possible resale of oil by Cuba

(Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s U.S. envoy pledged on Thursday to investigate the possibility that Cuba is reselling oil and fuel the South American country ships to its political ally under favorable terms.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido takes part in a news conference after Venezuela's pro-government supreme court replaced the leaders of two key opposition parties, months ahead of legislative elections in Caracas, Venezuela June 17, 2020. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

Carlos Vecchio, whom Guaido named his ambassador to Washington after being recognized as Venezuela’s rightful president by dozens of countries, said President Nicolas Maduro’s government was “getting nothing back” from its shipments to Cuba.

Guaido, the speaker of the opposition-held National Assembly, argues Maduro’s 2018 re-election was a sham.

OPEC-member Venezuela, whose oil exports have been crippled by U.S. sanctions meant to pressure Maduro to resign, sent 14.1 million barrels of oil to Cuba between January and June, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and internal documents from state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela [PDVSA.UL], known as PDVSA.

“Cuba doesn’t need that amount of oil,” Vecchio told reporters. “Probably part of that will be resold.”

Washington has sanctioned vessels that transport Venezuelan oil to Cuba, arguing in exchange Havana sends security and intelligence assistance to help prop up Maduro, who has overseen a six-year economic collapse.

Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela’s oil ministry responded to requests for comment. Maduro calls Guaido a U.S. puppet and blames sanctions for the country’s woes. Late former President Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s mentor, said the shipments were payment for Cuban doctors who provided health services in Venezuela.

The Cuban government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Vecchio said the oil sent to Cuba should instead be given to an international organization like the United Nations or Red Cross in exchange for humanitarian goods, but said an Iraq-style oil-for-food program - which some Venezuelan politicians have called for - would likely not work with Maduro in power.

“We need to give those resources to international organizations to provide humanitarian assistance in an impartial manner,” he said.

Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Editing by Richard Chang