El Salvador Dares Maduro, Expels Venezuela Diplomats

 

El Salvador ordered Venezuela’s diplomats to leave the country in a challenge to their president Nicolas Maduro, prompting his government to respond by expelling Salvadoran envoys in Caracas on Sunday.

El Salvador under its new President Nayib Bukele is one of more than 50 countries that have declared Maduro’s government in Venezuela illegitimate.

They have switched their recognition to his lead rival, national assembly speaker Juan Guaido, who has declared himself Venezuela’s acting president.

Bukele said El Salvador had ordered “the diplomatic corps from the regime of Nicolas Maduro” to leave the country within 48 hours, in a statement posted on his Twitter account late Saturday.

In response, the Venezuelan foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday it had declared each of the Salvadoran diplomatic staff in Caracas “persona non grata” and gave them 48 hours to leave.

Maduro’s leftist government has jailed opposition leaders and is accused of using torture and arbitrary arrests as it struggles to hold on to power amid a collapsing economy.

But his government still has support from Russia and China.

Before his election in June, Bukele said he would maintain a “distant” relationship with Caracas and close ties with the United States, Maduro’s biggest diplomatic foes.

US Ambassador Ronald Johnson reacted warmly to El Salvador’s decision.

“We applaud the government of President Nayib Bukele for ensuring that El Salvador is on the right side of history,” he said on Twitter.

US President Donald Trump was one of the first leaders to recognize Guaido when the opposition leader mounted an unsuccessful bid to oust Maduro in April.

AFP

Guaido Warns Maduro Against Moving Legislative Elections Forward

US Seeks UN Draft Resolution Calling For Venezuela Elections
The President of Venezuela’s National Assembly and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido (L) and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) delivering speeches in Caracas on February 8, 2018. Juan BARRETO, Federico PARRA / AFP

 

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido warned President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday that any attempts to bring forward parliamentary elections would end in “disaster” for the government.

Elections to renew the National Assembly, the only branch of government under opposition control, are set for December 2020.

But the Constituent Assembly, a rival body created by the Maduro regime and given extraordinary powers superseding the National Assembly, has hinted at the possibility of ordering early elections.

Such a maneuver could threaten the opposition’s hold on the National Assembly and with it Guaido’s claim as head of the legislature to be the country’s legitimate president.

But Guaido insisted it would backfire, further isolating Maduro, who has so far withstood opposition challenges to his presidency with the support of the military.

“What would happen if the regime dared to — and it could — bring forward an irregular convocation for elections without any conditions?” said Guaido.

“They will drown in contradictions, in isolation — they will drown in disaster.”

Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, the most powerful regime figure after Maduro, admitted on Monday the move was a “counter-attack” after the United States increased its sanctions on the government.

Venezuela has been locked in a political crisis since the legislature branded Maduro a “usurper” in January over his controversial re-election last year in a poll widely denounced as rigged.

As the head of the National Assembly, Guaido demanded Maduro step down and declared himself acting president in a move recognized by more than 50 countries.

The government and the opposition have engaged in Norwegian-mediated talks but those negotiations appear blocked over the opposition’s demand that Maduro step down so new elections can be held.

In the meantime, the regime has stepped up pressure on opposition legislators by stripping 25 of them of their parliamentary immunity over their alleged support for a failed April uprising instigated by Guaido.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said these moves were “another direct attack on the only democratically elected body in Venezuela.”

US President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton urged the “international community to hold the tyrant Maduro accountable.”

AFP

Venezuela Crisis: China Warns US Against Bullying

Maduro Accuses US Of Financing Mercenary 'Plot' Against Him
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a pro-government demonstration in Caracas on March 23, 2019. Juan BARRETO / AFP

 

China on Wednesday hit back at remarks from a top US official who warned Beijing and Moscow against supporting the Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro, and called on Washington to stop “bullying” other countries.

The United States is one of more than 50 countries backing opposition leader Juan Guaido in Venezuela, whereas China and several other countries, including Russia, support Maduro.

On Tuesday, US National Security Advisor John Bolton urged China and Russia to avoid doing business with the Maduro government, after President Donald Trump ordered a freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the US and barred transactions with its authorities.

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Bolton’s comments are “a wanton interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying in an online statement.

“China urges the US to… let the Venezuelan people decide their own future and immediately stop the bullying actions of suppressing other countries at every turn,” she said.

Crisis-wracked Venezuela has been mired in a political impasse since January when Guaido, speaker of the National Assembly, proclaimed himself acting president, quickly receiving the support of more than 50 countries.

Beijing, which has had close relations with Maduro over the years and is one of Caracas’s main creditors, has repeatedly warned against foreign interference in the South American country, whose economy is wracked by hyperinflation and shortages of basic necessities.

On Tuesday, delegates from about 60 countries discussed ways of ending the crisis in Venezuela in a meeting called by the Lima Group, which includes a dozen Latin American countries and Canada, most of which support Guaido.

During the meeting, Bolton singled out Maduro allies China and Russia, telling them their “support to the Maduro regime is intolerable”.

He also urged Russia not to “double down on a bad bet,” and told China that “the quickest route to getting repaid” for its loans to Venezuela was by supporting “a new legitimate government.”

AFP

Venezuela Crisis: ‘I Am Very Optimistic’, Says Maduro After Talks With Opposition

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro

 

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said Monday he was “optimistic” after dialogue between his government and the opposition resumed in Barbados.

The South American nation was plunged into political turmoil in January when National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority.

The opposition leader is recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries but has been unable to dislodge Venezuela’s socialist leader, who is backed by Russia, China and Cuba.

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Delegations from both sides arrived in Barbados Monday morning to revive discussions after a previous round in Norway petered out.

“I am very optimistic… Today they had a five-hour session, and I think that step by step, with strategic patience, we can find a path to peace,” Maduro said in a broadcast on the state television channel VTV.

Without giving details, he said that a six-point agenda was being discussed with “the whole country in mind.”

“If you work with goodwill and there is no American interventionism, I am sure that we will reach an agreement,” said Maduro, who blames the United States for fanning the crisis.

The Barbados talks will be the third round since the Oslo talks in May, although Guaido had originally said last Tuesday there were no plans to re-open talks with Maduro’s “murderous dictatorship” following the death of an officer in custody over an alleged coup plot.

The suspicious death of retired naval officer Rafael Acosta Arevalo had sparked international condemnation.

Guaido said Sunday he wants the talks to lead them towards Maduro’s departure from the presidency he has held since 2013 to a transitional government, and then “free elections with international observers”.

 Ravaged by crises 

Some members of the opposition oppose the Barbados talks, fearing they may reinvigorate Maduro, but Enrique Marquez, vice president of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, said they are the best option.

“A violent solution… could generate loss of governance even for a new government,” he told AFP.

Along with the negotiations in Barbados, Guaido had a closed-door meeting on Monday in the capital Caracas with Enrique Iglesias, the European Union’s special advisor for Venezuela.

Afterwards, Iglesias met with Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.

“Iglesias has confirmed his commitment to the dialogue process,” Rodriguez said on Twitter.

Oil-rich Venezuela has been ravaged by five years of recession marked by shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities, and the economic woes have been exacerbated by the political crisis.

Delegations representing the Venezuelan rivals met face-to-face in Oslo for the first time in late May, in a process begun two weeks earlier under Norwegian auspices to find a solution to the nation’s multiple crises.

Maduro has repeatedly said that the dialogue will continue with the opposition “for peace in Venezuela.”

Guaido has called Maduro a “usurper” for staying in power after a 2018 election widely dismissed as a sham.

Meanwhile, Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo stressed in a TV interview that military intervention is not the solution to the Venezuelan crisis, and offered his country’s assistance in reaching a negotiated solution.

AFP

UN Decries Venezuela ‘Executions’, Urges Dissolution Of Special Forces

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks after meeting Chilean High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas. YURI CORTEZ / AFP

 

The UN rights chief warned Thursday that many of the thousands killed in Venezuela security operations since 2018 likely constituted “executions”, and urged Caracas to dissolve its special police force.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who visited Venezuela last month, pointed out in a fresh report that thousands of people, mostly young men, had been killed in alleged confrontations with state forces in the country in recent years.

“The incidence of alleged extrajudicial killings by security forces… has been shockingly high,” Bachelet’s office said in a statement.

In 2018, the government registered 5,287 killings, purportedly for “resistance to authority” during such operations, between January 1 and May 19 this year, another 1,569 similar killings were registered.

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“There are reasonable grounds to believe that many of these killings constitute extrajudicial executions committed by the security forces,” the report said, especially pointing a finger at Venezuela’s police special forces (FAES).

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) “is concerned that the authorities may be using FAES, and possibly other security forces, as part of a policy of social control. These killings warrant immediate investigation to ensure accountability of perpetrators and guarantees of non-recurrence,” the report said.

In the report, which Bachelet is set to present to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday, she urged the government in Caracas to “dissolve FAES.”

She also urged it to “establish an impartial and independent national mechanism, with the support of the international community, to investigate extrajudicial executions during security operations, ensure accountability of perpetrators and redress for victims.”

‘Grave violations’ 

Bachelet’s report also decried a wide range of other grave rights violations in Venezuela, which is caught in an economic crisis and a political standoff between President Nicolas Maduro’s government and National Assembly leader Juan Guaido.

The opposition leader, Guaido, declared himself interim president earlier this year and has been recognised by the United States and more than 50 other countries.

The oil-rich country is also suffering from hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods from food to medicine, a crisis that has forced millions to flee.

The report concluded that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that grave violations of economic and social rights, including the rights to food and health, have been committed in Venezuela.”

It also said that “as the economic crisis deepened, the authorities began using social programmes in a discriminatory manner, based on political grounds, and as an instrument of social control.”

The report also voiced criticism of sanctions imposed on Venezuela, saying they were “exacerbating further the effects of the economic crisis, and thus the humanitarian situation.”

Thursday’s report charged that Venezuela’s government over the past decade, and especially since 2016, had implemented a strategy “aimed at neutralising, repressing and criminalising political opponents and people critical of the government.”

In the statement, the rights office pointed to a series of laws, policies and practices in Venezuela that it said had “restricted the democratic space, dismantled institutional checks and balances, and allowed patterns of grave violations.”

The report also noted that as of May 31 this year, 793 people remained in arbitrary detention in the country and that so far this year 22 members of parliament, including Guaido, had been stripped of their parliamentary immunity.

AFP

Venezuelan General Calls For Military Uprising Against Maduro

President Maduro

 

A Venezuelan air force general has called on his country’s armed forces to rise up against President Nicolas Maduro, who remains in power with military support despite a sweeping economic crisis.

“It’s time to rise up, it’s time to fight … it’s time that the armed forces became aware,” General Ramon Rangel said in a video appeal issued Sunday on social media.

Rangel — who appeared in civilian clothes and whose location is unknown — is the latest of several military figures to call on Venezuela’s military to abandon Maduro.

Another Air Force general, Francisco Yanez, pledged his allegiance to opposition leader Juan Guaido on February 2.

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Rangel did not however specifically call on the military to switch their allegiance to Guaido, who is recognized as interim president by much of the international community.

The 35-year-old National Assembly speaker, who organized a failed uprising on April 30, has repeatedly called on the armed forces to abandon Maduro.

A source close to Venezuela’s military told AFP that Rangel has not been on active duty “for years,” and at one point was the manager of a Venezuelan state company in Cuba.

The commander of the Air Force, General Pedro Juliac, denounced Rangel as a traitor on Twitter.

Juliac’s tweet carried a photo of Rangel with a cross over it, and the phrase: “Traitor of the people and of the Revolution.”

“Those without morals will never be able to damage the country, let alone the Bolivarian military aviation. We will win – Long Live the Revolution.”

AFP

Canada Asks Venezuela’s Maduro To ‘Step Aside Now’

Maduro Accuses US Of Financing Mercenary 'Plot' Against Him
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a pro-government demonstration in Caracas on March 23, 2019. Juan BARRETO / AFP

 

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland called on Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday to “step aside now” after self-proclaimed leader Juan Guaido said troops had joined his campaign to oust Maduro.

“Venezuelans are in the streets today demonstrating their desire for a return to democracy even in the face of a violent crackdown,” Freeland told a press conference.

“Canada commends their courage and we call on the Maduro regime to step aside now and allow for a peaceful end to this crisis in line with the Venezuelan Constitution,” she said.

“It is time for Venezuela in line with its own laws to return to democracy.”

She said an emergency conference call would be convened later in the day to discuss the situation with the foreign ministers of 13 Latin American nations that — with Canada — form the Lima Group.

Freeland also planned to speak with Julio Borges, who represents Guaido at the Lima Group and is currently in Canada.

The Lima Group was created in 2017 to try to find a solution to Venezuela’s economic meltdown.

Most Lima Group members have refused to recognize Maduro’s second term, which began on January 10, due to alleged fraud during his re-election last year.

Guaido, the National Assembly speaker, launched a challenge to Maduro’s authority and has been backed by more than 50 countries, led by the United States, that recognize him as Venezuela’s interim president.

AFP

Maduro Announces 30 Days Of Electricity Rationing In Venezuela

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro (C) and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino (R) along with other members of the government, announcing a 30-day electricity rationing plan, at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, on March 31, 2019.  HO / Venezuelan Presidency / AFP

 

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro announced 30 days of electricity rationing Sunday after his government said it was shortening the working day and keeping schools closed due to blackouts.

Angry Venezuelans meanwhile took to the streets of Caracas to protest the power cuts and water shortages.

The measures are a stark admission by the government — which blamed repeated power outages in March on sabotage — that there is not enough electricity to go around, and that the power crisis is here to stay.

The blackouts have worsened already dire economic and living conditions in the country, which sits on the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

Power failures come alongside a political showdown between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized as interim president by the United States and more than 50 other countries.

Speaking on state television, Maduro said he had approved “a 30-day plan” to ration power.

He did not detail how it would work but said there would be “an emphasis on guaranteeing water service”.

Maduro also acknowledged that many Venezuelans could not watch his broadcast because they had no electricity.

Crippled infrastructure, little investment in the power grid and poor maintenance have all contributed to electricity problems.

A “brain drain” of qualified personnel has also hit the industry, with about 25,000 people in the electricity sector among the 2.7 million Venezuelans who have emigrated since 2015.

Add to that the country’s deep economic crisis, which includes a soaring inflation rate.

Earlier on Sunday, authorities announced other measures as a result of the electricity shortage.

“To achieve consistency in the provision of electricity, the Bolivarian government decided to maintain the suspension of school activities and establish a workday until 2:00 pm in public and private institutions,” Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said on state television.

With no electricity, pumping stations can’t work, so water service is limited. Street lights and traffic lights go dark, pumps at fuel stations stand idle, and cell phone and internet service is non-existent.

Children don’t have “a drop of water” to drink, complained Maria Rodriguez, a Caracas resident.

But people try to find it wherever they can: from springs, leaky pipes, gutters, government-provided tankers, and the little that flows through the Guiare River in Caracas.

“We fill up from a well near here but we don’t know if its drinkable. But we’re using it,” said Erimar Vale, a resident of the capital.

Angel Velazquez said he bathed at work because they did not have water at home.

Opposition leader Guaido asked people to protest each time there was a blackout.

“This is going to continue. The situation is very serious, there will be more blackouts and rationing,” said Winton Cabas, president of the Venezuelan Association of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering.

“The whole power grid is barely generating between 5,500 and 6,000 megawatts when it has the capacity to generate 34,000 megawatts,” he told AFP.

 Problems run deep 

The Maduro government has blamed “terrorists” for alleged attacks that have damaged the Guri hydroelectric power plant, which generates 80 per cent of Venezuela’s electricity.

The Guri plant, however, was already showing signs of trouble: back in 2010, then-president Hugo Chavez said electricity would be rationed in some Venezuelan states because water was low at the Guri dam due to a drought.

Jose Aguilar, a Venezuelan consultant living in the United States, said the problems with the power grid run deep.

“Over the past 20 years, the infrastructure has been abused due to a lack of maintenance and the postponing of upgrade plans,” he told AFP.

Another problem was the “de-professionalization” of the sector, when Chavez nationalized the privately-run power company in 2007, in which pro-government loyalists took positions as managers and engineers.

 Cooking pots, whistles 

Demonstrations by Venezuelans angry about the blackouts broke out Sunday in Caracas.

With cooking pots, whistles and flags, dozens of residents spontaneously took to the streets in scattered protests.

Protesters and human rights groups said some demonstrators were attacked by “colectivos”, pro-government enforcers that the opposition describes as paramilitary thugs.

Maduro has given the “colectivos” permission to contain protests that he describes as violent mobs aiming to oust him from power.

Joaquin Rodriguez, a 54-year-old lawyer, was among those protesting in Los Palos Grandes, a once-prosperous neighborhood that has endured blackouts for more than a decade.

“Once again a nationwide blackout is affecting our quality of life,” he told AFP.

“We don’t have water. We don’t have any light. We don’t have internet access, our phones don’t work… we are even worse off than we could have imagined.”

AFP

Maduro Accuses US Of Financing Mercenary ‘Plot’ Against Him

Maduro Accuses US Of Financing Mercenary 'Plot' Against Him
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a pro-government demonstration in Caracas on March 23, 2019. Juan BARRETO / AFP

 

President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday accused the United States of using frozen Venezuelan funds to bankroll mercenaries to assassinate him in a “plot” he said was directed by opposition leader Juan Guaido.

“We have dismantled a plan organised personally by the diabolical puppet to kill me,” Maduro told thousands of supporters in Caracas, referring to Guaido, who is recognised as interim president by more than 50 countries.

He alleged that Colombia, Venezuela’s US-aligned neighbour, was also involved, and said that an unidentified Colombian paramilitary chief had been captured in the country “and is giving testimony.”

Maduro’s government gave details of the alleged plot on state television, with Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez saying “hitmen” from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras had been recruited “using big sums of money” and sent to Colombia ahead of missions into Venezuela to carry out “targeted assassinations” and “sabotage.”

Rodriguez accused Guaido’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, of receiving money from the United States and being a key organiser of the alleged operation.

Marrero, a 49-year-old lawyer, was arrested on Thursday in his Caracas home, triggering an outcry and demands he be immediately released by the US, the European Union and major Latin American countries that recognise Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.

He yelled out to a neighbour, an opposition lawmaker, that the SEBIN intelligence officers arresting him had planted two assault rifles and a grenade in his home.

Hours later, Maduro’s government showed pictures of weapons it said it found and alleged Marrero was part of a “terrorist cell.”

– US ratchets up sanctions –

Rodriguez played recordings he said were from WhatsApp conversations between Marrero and Guaido in which he said they discussed using Venezuelan funds blocked by US sanctions to finance armed groups with the support of Colombian President Ivan Duque.

The accusations were repeated shortly afterwards by Maduro as he addressed a crowd of thousands of supporters in the capital.

According to his government, the United States has seized $30 billion is Venezuelan assets, including money in bank accounts.

Rodriguez alleged funds in accounts in Bank of America and Banesco Panama were being used in the plot.

Guaido, the head of the opposition-run assembly, has asked the international community to keep up its pressure on Maduro’s government.

The United States has ratcheted up successive rounds of sanctions on Venezuela, suspending visas for 300 Venezuelans deemed close to the regime and making it difficult for the state-run oil company PDVSA to operate or secure credit on the markets.

On April 28, the sanctions will jump up another level with an embargo on crude exports.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly warned Maduro to not arrest or intimidate Guaido or his aides, or else face unspecified consequences.

Trump has reiterated that “all options” — implicitly including military action — are on the table for dealing with Venezuela.

AFP

China Offers To Help Venezuela Restore Power After Blackout

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro/ AFP

 

China on Wednesday offered to help Venezuela bring its collapsing power grid back online as President Nicolas Maduro sought to stave off rising public anger that is bolstering his US-backed rival Juan Guaido.

A vast blackout that struck Venezuela nearly a week ago — the worst in its history — has deepened the South American country’s already a grave economic crisis, especially by disrupting the supply of drinking water.

Although electricity has since been restored to most of the capital Caracas, water was having to be trucked in, and western swaths of the country remain without power.

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“No water, no power, no medicine, no cash, no transport. This has been dreadful,” one Caracas resident, Victoria Milano, 40, told AFP.

Guaido, an opposition leader whose claim to be Venezuela’s interim president is backed by the US and 50 other countries, told supporters on Tuesday he expected to have military chiefs on his side and take over the presidential palace “very soon.”

“This desperation and darkness is caused by the dictatorship,” Guaido said, alleging that around 20 people had died in hospital because of the power cut.

Venezuela’s pro-Maduro prosecutor’s office has hit back with a criminal investigation against Guaido for “sabotage,” alleging he had a hand in the blackout. But the opposition leader remains free after the US warned of “consequences” if he were arrested.

 Maduro sees ‘victory’

Maduro has accused Washington of waging “cybernetic” and “electromagnetic” attacks against Venezuela’s Guri hydroelectric plant, which provides power to 80 percent of the country’s 30 million inhabitants.

As he declared “victory” on television late Tuesday, claiming power had been restored “in almost all” the nation, Caracas residents in formerly middle-class neighborhoods banged pots in the street in protest.

Experts said an attack by a foreign state actor on Venezuela’s grid was possible, but unlikely.

“Knowing Venezuela, it was likely an internal failure,” Jeff Middleton, the chief technology officer at The Vault Foundation, a company that secures crypto currency transactions, told AFP.

Venezuela’s infrastructure has degraded over years because of lack of investment, a significant brain drain, and the government’s practice of putting the military in charge of key civilian facilities and companies. That has impacted not only the electricity grid but also the country’s vital oil industry.

The situation has worsened with successive rounds of US sanctions against Maduro’s regime, including steps that have severely curbed its oil exports.

 China, Spain offer help 

While much of Latin America and Europe have thrown their weight behind Guaido with a view to forcing presidential elections in Venezuela, Maduro has the support of Russia and China, major creditors and buyers of Venezuelan oil.

China on Wednesday said it stood ready to help Venezuela get its electricity up and running again.

“China hopes that Venezuela can quickly find the cause of this accident and restore normal power and social order,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular briefing in Beijing.

“China is willing to offer assistance and technical support to Venezuela to restore the power system,” Lu said.

The spokesman said China was “very concerned” about reports of a cyber attack, but declined to directly blame the United States.

Spain, one of the EU countries strongly backing Guaido, also offered help to fix Venezuela’s “badly deteriorated” electricity system.

According to Ecoanalitica, an economic analysis firm, the blackout had by Tuesday cost Venezuela $875 million.

“There is major paralysis in many critical areas in the oil sector,” it said, estimating that up to 70 percent of the one million barrels of oil a day Venezuela still managed to produce could end up being affected.

AFP

UN Blames Worsening Venezuela Crisis On Sanctions

 

Sanctions have worsened Venezuela’s crippling economic and political crisis, the UN human rights chief said Wednesday, as Washington warned it may expand measures targeting President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said sanctions had exacerbated the crisis but also slammed Maduro’s “violations of civil and political rights” in her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Venezuela clearly illustrates the way violations of civil and political rights –- including failure to uphold fundamental freedoms, and the independence of key institutions –- can accentuate a decline of economic and social rights,” said former Chile president Bachelet.

Venezuelans have been battered by an economic meltdown, shortages of food and medicine and a bitter political standoff between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido — who has been recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries.

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“This situation has been exacerbated by sanctions,” Bachelet said.

Washington, which has recognized Venezuela’s opposition chief Juan Guaido as the country’s leader, imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA last month.

It has also handed Guaido control of Venezuela’s bank accounts in the United States.

The US envoy for the crisis in Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said Tuesday that Washington was weighing more punitive measures to increase the pressure on Maduro.

Guaido vowed Tuesday to increase pressure on Maduro, who in turn promised to crush a “crazed minority” that wants to remove him from power.

The 35-year-old National Assembly leader returned home to a hero’s welcome on Monday, having defied a ban on leaving the country to embark on a 10-day tour of South American allies. He remains free despite the threat of arrest by the government.

“They thought the pressure had reached its zenith, but it’s only just beginning,” Guaido told reporters.

On Tuesday, a national holiday, he met public sector union leaders.

“Public sector workers have lost practically all their rights, we have no other option but to call for a civic strike,” said Guaido, without giving further details.

Maduro, meanwhile, pressed his supporters to hold “anti-imperialist” marches Saturday to counter fresh protests planned by Guaido.

“Today more than ever, we are victorious against the conspiracy, against blackmail, while a crazy minority continues with their hatred,” he said in his first public comments since Guaido’s return.

When he returned to Caracas — his latest challenge to Maduro’s authority — Guaido announced to tens of thousands of supporters his plans for new protests.

He has vowed to set up a transitional government and hold new elections.

US envoy Abrams said that given Maduro’s low popularity, it would be “a gift” if he decided to run in fresh polls.

“That’s ultimately a decision for Venezuelans to make,” Abrams said.

 ‘Paralyzed public administration’ 

As part of his challenge to Maduro, Guaido is attempting to take control of the state bureaucracy, which he considers having been “kidnapped” through blackmail and persecution.

Unions from the oil industry, basic services, the public bank and local government took part in Tuesday’s meeting, union leader Ana Yanez told AFP.

“The public administration is practically paralyzed. In the town halls, people only go to work three days a week and even then barely half the day,” said Yanez.

Maduro finally made an appearance in the late afternoon to lead a military parade paying tribute to his predecessor Hugo Chavez on the sixth anniversary of the socialist firebrand’s death.

Standing in front of Chavez’s mausoleum, Maduro also called on his supporters to take to the streets on Saturday, to mark “four years since” then-US president Barack Obama first announced sanctions against the socialist government.

Maduro has done this before, calling his own counter-demonstration every time Guaido announces a protest.

Both attract thousands of supporters, but the opposition gatherings usually have the edge in numbers.

Maduro had been active on Twitter earlier in the day, again paying tribute to Chavez.

“Thanks to your teachings and your example we’re continuing the permanent fight against those who tried so many times to extinguish your voice,” wrote Maduro.

During his travels, Guaido met US Vice President Mike Pence and the leaders of Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Ecuador.

AFP

Venezuelan Opposition Plans Fresh Protest Against Maduro As Guaido Returns

US Seeks UN Draft Resolution Calling For Venezuela Elections
Juan Guaido (L)                                                                  President Nicolas Maduro (R)/ AFP

 

Opposition supporters in Venezuela were set to take to the streets Monday after leader Juan Guaido called for mass protests against President Nicolas Maduro — as the self-declared interim president prepared to return after a week touring Latin American allies.

Guaido’s reappearance in Venezuela would pose an immediate challenge to the embattled Maduro, who will have to decide whether to arrest him for defying a travel ban — thereby provoking strong international condemnation — or allow him to enter unmolested, which would undermine his authority, analyst say.

“I’m announcing my return to the country. I am calling on the Venezuelan people to mobilize all over the country tomorrow at 11:00 am (1500 GMT),” Guaido wrote Sunday on Twitter.

Later, in a video with his wife shared on his social networks, he said if Maduro’s government “tries to kidnap us … it will be one of the last mistakes it makes.”

Guaido, who has been recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president, did not say how or when he would return, though speculation is rife that a flight from the Colombian capital Bogota to Caracas is the most likely route.

However, it is possible that he plans to slip across the border with Colombia in the same way he left Venezuela, claiming on that occasion that he had help from Maduro’s military.

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Guaido held talks in Salinas — a coastal resort town west of Guayaquil — on Saturday with President Lenin Moreno, and met with Venezuelan refugees.

On Sunday around noon, he flew out of Salinas without revealing his destination.

‘Must return to Venezuela’ 

Defying a Venezuelan government travel ban, Guaido slipped across the border to Colombia on February 23 in an attempt to escort in truckloads of international humanitarian aid. While in Colombia he met with visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.

The 35-year-old political newcomer then traveled to Brazil, where he met the country’s new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, and on Friday traveled to Paraguay and Argentina.

In a poke at Maduro during his trip, he said he was invited to visit Chile later this month.

Guaido, who heads the opposition-led National Assembly, stunned the world on January 23 when he proclaimed himself Venezuela’s acting president after the legislature declared Maduro a usurper and illegitimate over his May 2017 re-election, which was widely criticized as fraudulent. Maduro’s new term in office began on January 10.

Guaido wants to oust Maduro and set up a transitional government ahead of new elections.

Guaido “must return to Venezuela and continue to press internally, as the international support is enormous,” Eufracio Infante, 64, a Venezuelan lawyer and history teacher, told AFP.

“We are facing a very delicate situation and every minute we are approaching an outcome we hope will not be catastrophic,” he said.

Maduro — who retains the support of Venezuela’s powerful military — enjoys strong support from Russia, which accuses Washington of interventionism, and China, which is concerned over the fate of billions of dollars in loans to Maduro’s regime.

The socialist president warned last week that Guaido should “respect the law” and would have to “face justice” if he returns to the country.

Guaido said last week he intended to return to Venezuela “despite threats” to arrest him. The United States and other allies have expressed concern for his safety.

“The challenge has gone very far,” political analyst Luis Salamanca told AFP. “If he comes in and they stop him, it will generate strong internal reaction as well as internationally. Maduro is at permanent risk.”

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned on Saturday that any measure that would put at risk Guaido’s “freedom, safety or personal integrity would represent a major escalation of tensions and meet the firm condemnation of international community.”

“Guaido has grown so much politically that they haven’t been able to touch him, in the traditional ways … which is to put him in prison or force him to flee the country, harass him,” said Salamanca.

Separately, Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera sharply criticized UN rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet — Chile’s president 2006-2010 and 2014-2018 — on Sunday for failing to condemn Maduro for human rights violations.

Pinera, a Chilean billionaire elected president for the second time in 2017, is a key supporter of Guaido, and joined the Venezuelan opposition leader in Cucuta, Colombia last weekend in a failed attempt to send international humanitarian aid into Venezuela.

Pinera said in an interview published in the El Mercurio newspaper that Bachelet’s predecessor at the UN, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan, “was much clearer, more categorical in condemning human rights abuses.”

AFP