EU’s Borrell Condemns Expulsion Of Envoy From Venezuela

European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell attends a meeting at the Maximos Mansion in Athens on June 24, 2020. (Photo by ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP)

 

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Tuesday condemned the expulsion of the EU’s ambassador to Venezuela ordered by President Nicolas Maduro and said the bloc would reciprocate.

“We condemn and reject the expulsion of our ambassador in Caracas. We will take the usual necessary reciprocal measures,” Borrell tweeted.

Maduro gave Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa 72 hours on Monday to leave the country in response to European sanctions against 11 Venezuelans.

Relations have been tense since 2017, when Venezuela became the first Latin American country to be hit by EU sanctions, including an arms embargo.

Among the officials sanctioned Monday was Maduro-backed opposition legislator Luis Parra, who is contesting the leadership of the opposition-controlled National Assembly with its president Juan Guaido.

Guaido used his position as head of parliament to challenge Maduro’s authority in January 2019 by declaring himself acting president after the National Assembly deemed the socialist leader a usurper over his controversial re-election in 2018 in a poll widely branded fraudulent.

Guaido is recognized as his country’s interim president by more than 50 nations, including the United States and much of the EU.

“Only a negotiated solution between Venezuelans will allow the country to emerge from its deep crisis,” Borrell added in his tweet.

AFP

Venezuela’s Oil Production Sinks To Lowest Output In 77 Years

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 30, 2009, the slogan (Venezuela now, it’s for all) was painted in front of an oil refinery in the Venezuelan city of Moron. Thomas COEX / AFP

 

 

Crisis-wracked Venezuela’s relentless fall in oil production sunk to a new low in May, according to OPEC figures, a milestone in a decade of decline for the once-proud petroleum powerhouse.

Venezuela — heavily dependant on income from oil exports — produced just 570,000 barrels of oil a day, a drop of 54,000 bpd compared to one month earlier in April, according to Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries figures out Wednesday.

The OPEC number was also 162,000 bpd lower than official Venezuelan statistics.

Venezuela’s oil production peaked in 1970 at 3.7 million bpd, and even 12 years ago state oil company PDVSA — once among the world’s top five oil enterprises — was producing 3.2 million bpd.

Not counting a December 2002-March 2003 oil workers strike, the current output is the lowest since 1943, when Venezuela had a population of barely four million, compared to 30 million today.

Experts blame the production drop on government mismanagement, corruption, and failure over many years to invest in infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.

These problems have been amplified by US sanctions aimed at starving President Nicolas Maduro’s regime of a major source of funds in a bid to force him from power.

Between 2004 and 2015, Venezuelan oil exports raked in $750 billion, and the country had more than $42 billion in international reserves — now down to just $6.4 billion, according to the Central Bank.

Venezuela’s economy has been devastated by six years of recession, and it is experiencing the world’s highest inflation rate — all before the COVID-19 pandemic even struck.

On April 24, Venezuelan crude prices plunged to $9.90 a barrel — its lowest in two decades, although it rebounded to $13.45 by May 1. The oil ministry has not published any figures since.

According to oil information firm S&P Global Platts, Venezuela was forced to scale back production in recent weeks due to storage limitations and a lack of light oil to process its heavy crude.

Yet even if Venezuela were pumping at capacity, oil prices are at their lowest in years due to a huge drop in global demand, a result of worldwide economic crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

– ‘Trump’s knee on our neck’ –

Up to 2018, Venezuela was sending 500,000 bpd to the United States alone, and received in return 120,000 bpd of light oil, diluents and fuel-producing supplies.

Sanctions, however, have forced Venezuela, which used to refine enough oil for its own needs, to turn to allies such as US nemesis Iran to alleviate a desperate gasoline shortage.

All this is “sharpening Venezuela’s cycle of recession,” said economist Jose Manuel Puente, from the Public Policy Center at the Institute of Higher Education Administration (IESA).

Venezuela is heading for a seventh straight year of recession, during which time its economic growth has halved.

Making matters worse, Venezuela is selling the little oil it exports “at a loss” due to the global price drop and the dealings it must operate to work around US sanctions, said Puente.

The country “is on the brink of collapse,” he said.

Central Bank advisor Carlos Mendoza Potella is critical of the government’s policies, but says US sanctions played a major role in the oil industry’s demise.

“They’re strangling us, we’ve got (President Donald) Trump’s knee on our neck,” said Mendoza Potella.

Even without sanctions, though, he doesn’t see a future with oil as a “driver of development” due to the high costs in extracting Venezuelan crude.

Venezuela has the world’s largest proven crude reserves, but “that serves no purpose” if you can’t extract and sell it at a profit.

Puente believes the sector cannot recover without private investment.

“Alone we can’t do it. We don’t have the technology, or the financial and human resources,” he said.

The latest drop in production coincides with a flare-up of tensions between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself acting president 18 months ago, earning recognition from more than 50 countries.

Although the two agreed to cooperate to help fight the novel coronavirus, they have since clashed over upcoming legislative elections, which the opposition plans to boycott.

Puente says there is no chance of an economic bailout without a political transition plan that would likely require Maduro to cede power.

“We have no alternative, either we do it or we’ll continue un the cycle of disaster,” he said.

AFP

IMF Rejects Venezuela’s Request For $5bn Coronavirus Aid

 

The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday rejected economically devastated Venezuela’s request for a $5 billion loan to help it cope with the onslaught of coronavirus on the country that an aid agency warned is as prepared as war-torn Syria.

President Nicolas Maduro made the request earlier Tuesday but, in a statement hours later, the Washington-based institution indirectly cited a dispute over Maduro’s leadership in denying his petition.

In a letter to IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva, Maduro said a $5 billion loan from the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) “will contribute significantly to strengthening our detection and response systems.”

It was the country’s first loan request to the IMF since 2001.

“Unfortunately, the Fund is not in a position to consider this request,” because there is “no clarity” on international recognition of the country’s government, the Washington-based institution said in a statement.

“As we have mentioned before, IMF engagement with member countries is predicated on official government recognition by the international community, as reflected in the IMF’s membership. There is no clarity on recognition at this time,” the statement said.

More than 50 countries including the United States have not recognized Maduro for more than a year, after switching allegiance to opposition leader Juan Guaido who declared himself acting president.

Guaido branded Maduro a usurper over the president’s 2018 re-election in polls widely seen as fraudulent.

But US sanctions and other international pressures have failed to dislodge Maduro, who is backed by Venezuela’s creditors China and Russia and retains the support of the powerful military.

Five years of crisis 

The RFI from which Maduro sought the assistance is a mechanism by which all IMF member countries can get financial assistance without the need to have a full-fledged economic program in place.

Venezuela’s health system is in tatters after five years of an economic and political crisis that has sent millions of people fleeing for lack of basic staples.

“We hardly have five per cent of the medicine stocks we need,” Douglas Leon Natera, head of the Venezuelan Medical Federation, told AFP earlier.

Jan Egeland, general secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council, placed Venezuela in the same category as war-torn Syria and Yemen in its preparedness.

Like those countries, “there will be carnage” when the virus reaches parts of Venezuela given that “health systems have collapsed,” warned Egeland.

The country has 33 reported coronavirus cases, according to John Hopkins’ global tally, and Maduro has ordered a lockdown in the capital Caracas and six other states.

“At this crucial moment and aware of the high level of contagion of this disease, we will continue to take rapid and vigorous measures” to stop the advance of the pandemic, Maduro wrote in his letter to Georgieva.

“We are convinced that in permanent coordination with the WHO (World Health Organization) and the support among the countries of the world, we will be able to overcome this difficult situation.”

Security forces on motorcycles and in vehicles are patrolling the streets of the capital to enforce the containment measures and ensure only food stores remain open.

The country has banned flights to and from Europe, as well as Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic. It has also suspended school and university classes as well as sports events.

AFP

Trump, Guaido To Meet Over Venezuela Crisis

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks during a rally to commemorate May Day in Caracas/ AFP

 

US President Donald Trump will receive Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Wednesday for talks on how to speed a democratic transition in his country, the White House said.

Guaido, whom the United States and more than 50 other countries recognize as Venezuela’s acting president, is seeking renewed international support for his push to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

The Oval Office meeting at 2:15 pm (1915 GMT) follows Trump’s vow in a State of the Union speech Tuesday night — with Guaido in the audience as his guest — that “Maduro’s grip of tyranny will be smashed and broken.”

“The visit is an opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to the people of Venezuela and to discuss how we can work with President Guaido to expedite a democratic transition in Venezuela that will end the ongoing crisis,” the White House said in a statement.

“We will continue to work with our partners in the region to confront the illegitimate dictatorship in Venezuela, and we will stand alongside the Venezuelan people to ensure a future that is democratic and prosperous,” it said.

Maduro so far has weathered Guaido’s yearlong push for his ouster, which initially spark massive anti-government protest but has since lost momentum despite a deep economic crisis that has driven millions to emigrate.

As head of the National Assembly, Guaido proclaimed himself acting president in January 2019 after the legislature declared Maduro a “usurper” who was re-elected through fraud.

AFP

Venezuelan Opposition Leader To Attend World Economic Forum In Davos

Venezuelan opposition leader and self declared acting president Juan Guaido delivers a speech during the Venezuela Oil Industry Forum in Caracas on February 15, 2019.  Juan BARRETO / AFP

 

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido will attend this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez told AFP on Monday.

Guiado is currently in Colombia where he is due to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo but Gonzalez, a Guaido ally, said the parliament speaker will then head to Switzerland for the annual economic meeting that opens on Tuesday.

AFP

Guaido, Pompeo Meet In Colombia Over Venezuela Crisis

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared acting president Juan Guaido delivers a speech during the Venezuela Oil Industry Forum in Caracas on February 15, 2019.  Juan BARRETO / AFP

 

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has traveled to Colombia to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an opposition lawmaker said Sunday.

Guaido’s move comes amid an overture by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for direct negotiations with the United States on an end to crippling US sanctions.

Opposition lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez told AFP that Guaido, who is recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as Venezuela’s acting president, will meet in Bogota with Pompeo.

The US secretary of state is scheduled to arrive in the Colombian capital on Monday at the start of a Latin American tour.

Guaido has been barred from leaving Venezuela since proclaiming himself acting president a year ago after the National Assembly declared President Nicolas Maduro a “usurper.”

He defied the travel ban once before, in February 2016, when he secretly traveled to Colombia and then visited several other countries to marshal regional support for his challenge to Maduro.

The United States has been Guaido’s leading international supporter but the opposition bid to force Maduro’s ouster has stalled.

Guaido has headed the National Assembly for the past year but faced a challenge early this month from Maduro supporters over his re-election.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Maduro said he was comfortably in control and ready for direct negotiations with the United States.

“If there’s respect between governments, no matter how big the United States is, and if there’s a dialogue, an exchange of truthful information, then be sure we can create a new type of relationship,” Maduro told the Post.

The socialist leader said he was ready to hold talks with the US to negotiate an end to sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump intended to throttle the South American country’s oil industry and force Maduro from power.

Maduro indicated that, if Trump were to lift sanctions, US oil companies could benefit immensely from Venezuela’s oil.

“A relationship of respect and dialogue brings a win-win situation. A confrontational relationship brings a lose-lose situation. That’s the formula,” Maduro said.

AFP

 

US Threatens Sanctions On Venezuelan Lawmakers Over Bribes

President Donald Trump and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guadio

 

The United States will consider sanctions against Venezuelan lawmakers accused of taking bribes to vote against opposition leader Juan Guaido, an official said Wednesday.

Guaido, recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by the United States and more than 50 other nations, was sworn in Tuesday for another term after a chaotic standoff in which troops physically stopped him from entering Congress.

The United States has already imposed wide sanctions aimed at toppling leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s regime and cutting off his government’s key funding source of oil.

Guaido and the United States say Maduro’s government offered bribes to members of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s sole institution controlled by the opposition, in hopes of defeating Guaido.

“There are people who have been engaged in corrupt activity that may have gotten themselves on the radar screen for the first time in the last few days,” a senior US official told reporters in Washington.

He said he was speaking of “people taking money from people that are already under sanctions in the United States.”

“We don’t put sanctions on people for the way they vote,” he said, adding that if individuals “aid or abet or profit from the anti-democratic behavior of the regime, you could be subjected to sanctions.”

Despite a crumbling economy that has sent millions fleeing Venezuela, Maduro remains in power with support from the country’s military as well as Russia, China, and Cuba.

The US is also “looking at additional sanctions” in response to growing Russian support for Maduro, Elliot Abrams, the State Department’s Venezuela envoy, said on Monday.

Re-Elected Venezuela Opposition Leader Guaido Calls For Protests

Venezuela’s National Assembly head Juan Guaido declares himself the country’s “acting president” during a mass opposition rally against leader Nicolas Maduro, on the anniversary of a 1958 uprising that overthrew the military dictatorship in Caracas on January 23, 2019. Federico PARRA / AFP

 

 

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido called Tuesday for three days of protests against President Nicolas Maduro, hours after he was sworn in for another term as National Assembly speaker following a standoff with the armed forces.

Guaido was barred from entering the assembly by the National Guard for around half an hour in dramatic and chaotic scenes, while a rival claimant to the speaker’s post occupied the chair.

“It’s time to stand up and to stand up with force,” Guaido said later during a press conference.

“We will mobilize for street protests on Thursday and Friday, and on Saturday we will all be in the streets.”

Guaido, self-appointed acting president of Venezuela, leads the opposition to leftist Maduro, who remains in power despite Guaido’s year-long effort to oust the man he calls a “usurper.”

The National Assembly legislature is the only branch of government in the opposition’s hands, and Guaido’s holding of the speaker’s post is important for the continuation of his struggle with Maduro.

Guaido is backed by the United States and more than 50 other countries but, despite Venezuela’s economic collapse, Maduro appears entrenched with crucial support from the armed forces. He is also backed by China, Russia, and Cuba.

“Here we are, showing our face,” Guaido said, taking his seat in the assembly after rival claimant Luis Parra and pro-government lawmakers left.

Blocked by troops

Lawmakers sang the national anthem but electricity to the chamber was cut off, leaving deputies to use flashlights on their mobile phones.

Guaido then raised his right hand and took the oath of office for another term as leader of the assembly.

Earlier, dozens of National Guard troops wearing helmets and carrying riot shields blocked Guaido from entering the building.

“These are not barracks!” Guaido shouted.

Some of his allies and members of the press were also blocked from getting inside.

The opposition said on Twitter that four lawmakers were injured by “regime minions.”

Parra, an opposition legislator accused of corruption, had declared himself speaker on Sunday after the armed forces had prevented Guaido from entering the building.

Guaido had declared Sunday that he was re-elected to his post after holding a legislative session alongside loyal deputies at the offices of a pro-opposition newspaper.

Crisis-hit Venezuela has been in political turmoil since last January when Guaido used his position as speaker to declare himself acting president in a direct challenge to the authority of Maduro.

The United States warned on Tuesday it could ramp up sanctions against Venezuela, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Guaido on his re-election.

“The Maduro regime’s campaign of arrests, intimidation, and bribery could not derail Venezuelan democracy, nor could its use of military forces to physically bar the National Assembly from accessing the parliament building,” said Pompeo.

Speaking Tuesday on state broadcaster VTV, Maduro called Pompeo a “failed clown” for supporting Guaido, whose swearing-in as speaker was “a show.”

“The United States assumes it has the right to name the world’s legislatures with (their) threats,” he said.

And Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted that the US must “now assume that its strategy against Venezuela failed. They have not shown any skills as puppeteers and they lost their main puppet.”

Parra was kicked out of his opposition party last month after an online news site accused him of corruption linked to the over-pricing of food imported for the Maduro government.

He remains a deputy and Maduro recognized Parra’s election in a television address on Sunday. But even Maduro’s left-wing allies Argentina and Uruguay have denounced the move.

Assembly sidelined

Before Sunday’s vote, Guaido said the Maduro government had bribed some opposition deputies to vote against him.

The opposition holds 112 of the 167 seats in the assembly.

As well as two claimants to the presidency and the position of assembly speaker, Venezuela has two legislatures.

The National Assembly has been effectively sidelined since 2017, when the Supreme Court, made up of Maduro loyalists, declared it in contempt. The court has since annulled its every decision.

Maduro then controversially set up a Constituent Assembly — also made up exclusively of loyalists — with power to legislate in its place.

10 Killed As Riot Rocks Jail In Venezuela

 

 

Gang fighting at a jail in Venezuela left at least 10 inmates dead, an NGO reported Tuesday.

At least four grenades were detonated in clashes that began Monday evening in the northwestern state of Zulia, said the NGO, a human rights group called Una Ventana a la Libertad.

Venezuelan authorities have not said anything about a toll from the rioting, which the NGO said broke out at a jail which serves as a holding pen at a regional police headquarters.

Prisoners set fire to one wing of the facility, it said.

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It quoted local residents as saying explosions and then gunfire were heard starting late Monday, with the violence continuing overnight.

Zulia governor Omar Prieto said Monday that he is planning to close the detention center.

On December 23, an uprising at the jail left six people dead, the NGO said. One of those was shot by security forces, it added.

It said the jail holds about 1,000 inmates.

Venezuelan prisons suffer from severe overcrowding despite a 2011 plan to upgrade them.

Holding pens like the one in Zulia are full of detainees, who are not supposed to spend more than 48 hours there.

Nationwide, these facilities hold more than five times their capacity. Detainees suffer from violence, malnutrition and diseases such as tuberculosis, La Ventana a la Libertad said.

It said that in just the first half of 2019, 149 prisoners died in police holding pens, due to a variety of causes.

On May 24, a total of 29 inmates died during an attempted breakout from another such jail in the town of Acarigua in the western state of Portuguesa.

Clashes between prisoners and police left 19 officers injured in that incident.

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

Venezuela Hails ‘Victory’ Over UN Human Rights Council Seat

 

Venezuela hailed its “victory” and celebrated an “important achievement” on Thursday after winning a seat on the UN Human Rights Council despite fierce criticism over its own record.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the country would “celebrate a new victory for Bolivarian peace diplomacy,” in reference to the regime of socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab described it as an “important achievement” while announcing the release of 24 detained opposition figures.

Venezuela Obtains Seat On UN Human Rights Council

 

Venezuela obtained a seat on the UN Human Rights Council Thursday despite criticism from advocacy groups and other Latin American countries that its own rights record is dismal.

To applause in the chamber, Venezuela got the nod in a vote by the UN General Assembly to choose 14 new members for the 47-member body based in Geneva.

In Caracas, the government of President Nicolas Maduro called this an “important achievement.”

AFP