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Biden administration team in Venezuela as U.S. seeks to break country from Russian influence

Confronting Putin: What can Americans expect?
Confronting Putin: What can Americans expect? 09:48

Washington — Senior American officials are in Venezuela this weekend to meet with the government of Nicolás Maduro, whose authoritarian rule of the oil-producing country has meant no formal diplomatic relations between the two countries since 2019.

The visit is yet another example of a geopolitical shift underway across the globe in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine as the U.S. and European countries seek energy sources other than Russia, one of the world's largest oil exporters.

Multiple U.S. officials confirmed the trip is happening to CBS News. The White House and State Department declined formal comment.

News of the trip was first reported by The New York Times. That report prompted Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees and a vocal critic of the Maduro regime, to criticize the trip.

"Joe Biden using #Russia as an excuse to do the deal they always wanted to do anyway with the #MaduroRegime," Rubio tweeted Sunday morning. "Rather than produce more American oil he wants to replace the oil we buy from one murderous dictator with oil from another murderous dictator."

Rubio's active criticism of the Maduro regime and of the Cuban government through the years has resulted in occasional death threats against the senator, who's been known to travel with a Capitol Police security detail.

The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Caracas in 2019 after accusing Maduro's government of electoral fraud. The Trump administration more actively sought to topple Maduro and officially recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country's lawful leader. Maduro has grown closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin's government ever since. 

But with lawmakers in the U.S. and Ukrainian officials clamoring for the western world to cut off Russian oil exports as a way of squeezing Putin's government for his invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. is actively seeking alternative energy sources. In recent weeks, American officials visited Gulf states to see about arranging for oil exports to European countries to make up for lost supply from Russia if Putin opts to cut off the continent from his country's oil.

Any diplomatic engagement with Venezuela also could become a domestic political concern in this year's congressional and gubernatorial contests in Florida, a state with a growing Venezuela-American population where the GOP's sustained attacks on the Democratic Party's alleged embrace of socialism — a charge Democrats angrily dispute — has helped rally Latino voters in close races. 

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