And there are indications that Mr. Maduro’s government wants to take the underhand liberalization further, even rolling back the watershed nationalization of the oil industry that took place in the 1970s.
A group of lawmakers installed at the head of the National Assembly by Mr. Maduro in January — amid an international outcry — has proposed changing energy laws to allow greater private investment.
“In these times of declining output, we have to give space to a national proposal that, first of all, shall give private capital greater participation in exploration, production and marketing of oil,” Leandro Domínguez, a lawmaker, said in a statement.
Mr. Domínguez’s proposal is not recognized by the United States and most European and Latin American countries, who continue to support a rival, opposition-led congressional leadership. The opposition lawmakers oppose any changes to energy laws under Mr. Maduro, creating a legal limbo for foreign oil companies.
Despite the recent changes, there are many reasons to believe Venezuela’s best days as an oil superpower are over, according to Amy Myers Jaffe, an oil expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, and other experts.
Venezuela could gradually recover production to 2.6 million barrels a day over 10 years, but only with investments of over $200 billion, according to projections by IPD Latin America, a consulting firm.
At a time when many oil companies are struggling with declining profits, executives are looking for cheaper and cleaner sources of oil. Even if a political settlement eventually lifts sanctions, Venezuela’s dirty oil, laden with sulfur and other impurities, may find far fewer investors.