Thursday, July 27, 2017

U.S. actions dial up Venezuelan tensions (July 27, 2017)

The United States Treasury imposed sanctions on 13 senior Venezuelan officials -- part of a mounting international campaign to pressure the Venezuelan government to back off of a plan to rewrite the country's constitution, reports the BBC. The sanctions freeze the US assets of those affected, and stop US entities from doing business with them.

The sanctions targeted current and former government officials, high-ranking military officers, and managers of the state oil company known as PDVSA for alleged human rights abuses, undermining democracy and corruption, reports the Guardian. The officials targeted include Tibisay Lucena, the head of the country’s electoral agency, as well as the chiefs of the Venezuelan Army, National Guard and National Police. Under the sanctions, the officials’ U.S. assets are frozen and their U.S. visas revoked. U.S. citizens and institutions are prohibited from doing business with them, explains the Wall Street Journal.

Venezuelan officials involved in organizing the constituent assembly were also targeted, and the U.S. government also warned that any individuals who become members of the constituent assembly to be elected on Sunday risked being added to the U.S. sanctions list.

Officials also said that tougher sanctions, including measures targeting oil sales, are still on the table, notes the New York Times. Such a move would be dramatic, and take the U.S. into unknown territory, according to the Miami Herald. Oil sanctions could trigger further violence and even a military coup. And they could also risk affecting U.S. consumers, warns another New York Times piece.

Predictably, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro reacted with defiance, and honored the targeted officials yesterday.

Indeed, the sanctions are only likely to harden the resolve of the government's inner circle, warns David Smilde in a New York Times op-ed. The U.S. must not act unilaterally, he warns, at risk of giving the Maduro government a scapegoat in the style of the Cuba embargo. Oil sanctions would be worse, and could potentially cause a refugee crisis in the region. And the path, currently mostly symbolic, the Venezuelan opposition is taking towards creating a parallel government could potentially lead to full-on civil war, he warns. Instead, he advocates regional diplomacy led by a "group of friends," with the support of other international players.

Dialogue is the only way out, notes Smilde. But neither side seems anxious to negotiate seriously argues Miguel Angel Latouche in the Conversation. "Shunning the hard work of dialogue and debate, many Venezuelans are hoping for a Disney-style quick fix. ... Between these two approaches – the opposition’s weak mutinies and the government’s growing authoritarianism – there is a single country. But Venezuelans have demonstrated a sweeping inability to acknowledge each other’s existence in order to reach even the most basic agreement that could drive progress."

For the Economist, "the best solution would be a negotiated transition. Mr Maduro would finish his term but would respect the constitution and parliament, free political prisoners and guarantee that overdue regional elections, and the presidential contest next year, take place fairly. However, an attempt at such a negotiation failed last year, and there is no sign that Mr Maduro and his cronies will voluntarily surrender power."

Back to warnings against the U.S. acting unilaterally -- CIA Director Mike Pompeo blundered in an Aspen Institute chat and gave the Maduro regime ammunition to argue about U.S. intents to intervene in the crisis, writes Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's post.)

Colombian airline Avianca became the latest to suspend flights to Venezuela, joining Aeroméxico, Air Canada, Alitalia, Latam, Lufthansa and United Airlines, reports the BBC.

News Briefs
  • Supporters of El Salvador's draconian abortion ban -- one of the most stringent in the world -- have long been receiving funding from a U.S. anti-abortion group, reports the Guardian. Virginia-based Human Life International has been giving money to Sí a la Vida, a local group mainly responsible for the legislation banning abortion, since 2000. Salvador's lawmakers enshrined the ban in the country's constitution in 1999, to devastating effects for women suffering inviable pregnancies or obstetric complications.
  • Haitian cholera victims are desperate for U.N. compensation, but there's no sign that it will come through anytime soon, reports the Miami Herald. Victims and advocates have also rejected a suggestion that U.N. funding for victims would be used for community projects, instead insisting on individual payments.
  • Mexico City used to be an island of relative tranquility in the drug war violence that has characterized Mexico over the past decade. But "security experts and residents alike express concern that the calm is coming to an end," reports the Washington Post. Last week a security operative to capture a local cartel boss involved 1,000 members of security forces, and when Felipe de Jesús Pérez Luna, known as "Los Ojos," was killed, his underlings hijacked and burned buses and transport vehicles, the city's first "narcobloqueo." (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • A feminist group is claiming responsibility for an explosion in the Mexican Episcopal Conference facilities in Mexico City, reports Milenio. The "Comando Feminista Informal de Acción Antiautoritaria Coatlicue" published a message saying "Neither God nor master. For every torture and murder in the name of your God. For every child defiled by pederast priests." The homemade bomb exploded on Tuesday and damaged a door, nobody was injured, reports El Economista. The case will be investigated by federal authorities as it involves a religious institution, notes Informador.
  • Brazilian police arrested Aldemir Bendine, the former chief executive of Petrobras and before that Banco de Brasil, today. He allegedly bribes from construction giant Odebrecht, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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