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

CBSNews | Washington, DC – Senior American officials are in Venezuela this weekend to meet with President Nicolás Maduro's regime, whose authoritarian leadership has resulted in the two countries' lack of formal diplomatic relations since 2019.

The visit is just another illustration of a global geopolitical shift occurring in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as the United States and Europe look for alternative energy sources to Russia, one of the world's top oil suppliers.

CBS News has received confirmation from multiple US officials that the travel is taking place. The White House and the State Department have declined to comment on the matter.

The New York Times was the first to report on the trip. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees and a strong critic of the Maduro dictatorship, was spurred by the news to denounce the trip.

"Joe Biden is using #Russia as an excuse to do the deal with the #MaduroRegime that they always wanted to do anyhow," Rubio tweeted early Sunday. "Rather than producing more American oil, he wants to substitute the oil we buy from one deadly dictator with oil from another."

Rubio has received death threats as a result of his vocal criticism of the Maduro dictatorship and the Cuban government over the years, and he has been known to travel with a Capitol Police security detail.

After accusing Maduro's regime of electoral fraud, the US severed diplomatic ties with Caracas in 2019. The Trump administration stepped up its efforts to depose Maduro, recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country's legitimate leader. Since then, Maduro has grown closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration.

However, with US politicians and Ukrainian officials calling for the western world to cut off Russian oil exports in retaliation for Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the US is aggressively looking for alternate energy sources. In recent weeks, American officials visited Gulf states to discuss arranging for oil exports to Europe to compensate for lost Russian supplies if Putin chooses to cut the continent off from his country's oil.

Any diplomatic engagement with Venezuela could become a domestic political issue in this year's congressional and gubernatorial elections in Florida, a state with a growing Venezuelan-American population where the Republican Party's sustained attacks on the Democratic Party's alleged embrace of socialism — a charge Democrats vehemently deny — has aided Latino voters in close races.

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