Tuesday, January 29, 2019

New U.S. sanctions hit Venezuelan oil sector (Jan. 29, 2019)

 The U.S. Trump administration announced new sanctions against Venezuela's state owned oil company, blocking the majority of oil sales to the United States in stages, reports the Miami Herald. The sanctions represent one of the most significant economic moves against Nicolás Maduro's government, which obtains as much as 70 percent of its income from the oil sector. The move will immediately block access to $7 billion of PDVSA assets, and cost an estimated $11 billion in export proceeds over the coming year. 

Over 40 people have been killed in clashes with security forces over the past week, according to United Nations human rights office estimates. Record numbers of people have been detained since National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó declared himself Venezuela's interim president and called for massive protests against Maduro. (See last Thursday's post.) More than 700 people have been detained in the past week. Human rights activists said the death toll increased sharply in recent days, and expect further intensification with two large protests scheduled for this week. (Wall Street Journal and CBS)

Guaidó himself appears to be shielded from Maduro's reach by international support, and has moved freely around Caracas even as security forces crack down on dissent, reports the Associated Press.

The U.S. measures give Guaidó access to at least $500 million in Venezuelan assets, a number that could increase if other countries join sanctions against Venezuelan state companies. Guaidó told the Wall Street Journal that the funds could be spent on humanitarian aid, and lessen the impact of the sanctions on Venezuelan's hard hit citizens. It could also undermine military support for Maduro. (See also Associated Press.)

The Venezuelan crisis is increasingly geopolitical, and U.S. national security advisor John Bolton said the new sanctions are in part intended counter strategic threats from Cuba and Iran, reports the Guardian. "All options are on the table," said Bolton yesterday. Bolton spoke to the press yesterday holding a yellow legal pad reading "5,000 troops to Colombia," -- it's not clear whether the disclosure was intentional or what it means exactly, reports Reuters.

In the midst of increasing diplomatic polarization over Venezuela, Uruguay and Mexico have maintained a middle ground. The two were scheduled to take a dialogue proposal to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres yesterday. (Observador)

A little more in depth in The Nation, Greg Grandin explores the difficulties of evading polarization on the Venezuela issue, but also why its critical to do so.

Venezuela's consular official in Miami switched allegiance to Guaidó, the latest foreign service officer to defect from Maduro, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's post.)

News Briefs

  • The new U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan oil immediately affect Albanisa, a joint Venezuelan and Nicaraguan oil company, reports El Nuevo Diario.
  • Prominent Nicaraguan journalist Carlos F. Chamorro, a fierce critic of President Daniel Ortega, fled his country after threats to his life. From Costa Rica, where he is continuing his independent journalism, Chamorro spoke to the Wall Street Journal about his struggle to report Ortega's human rights violations and his family history.
  • Student protesters blocked a major road in Tegucigalpa and called for President Juan Orlando Hernández to resign. Police responded with tear gas, a day after security forces clashed with a political opposition march, reports AFP. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Honduran opposition lawmaker Maria Luisa Borjas will be tried on defamation charges, a move she characterized as political persecution in response to her long track record battling corruption, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian authorities arrested five people, including two mining company senior managers, in relation to the Brumadinho dam break on Friday. At least 65 people have died, and the death toll could be in the hundreds. (See yesterday's briefs.) Investigators also issued seven search warrants, on suspicion of murder, falsification of documents and environmental crimes. Anger in Brazil is growing against mining company Vale SA. And yesterday Brazil’s top prosecutor said she would pursue criminal charges against Vale executives. (ReutersBBC and Wall Street Journal)
  • Fatal accidents in the mining sector have actually decreased in recent years, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • But it's the second deadly accident in a Vale owned mine in recent years -- another dam accident in 2015 killed 19 people and created an ecological disaster. Part of the reason is poor regulation of how miners use water resources, reports the Guardian -- and President Jair Bolsonaro has promised to further ease licensing for new projects.
  • Bolsonaro's goals for his new government include easing agricultural regulations, expanding gun access, reforming pensions and implementing conservative educational reform. And he's likely to get his way reports Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly.
  • The assassination of Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco last year galvanized minority groups who are fighting back. Last year over 1,000 black women ran for electoral office in Brazil, a 60 percent increase over 2014. Many won, and promise to push back against Brazilian politics' shift to the right. (Americas Quarterly)
  • A tornado struck eastern Havana and killed three people late Sunday, reports the Associated Press. Over 170 people were injured and the power grid was severely damaged, reports the Miami Herald. (Video)
  • A Mexican woman convicted of homicide after suffering a miscarriage in a department store bathroom was freed after a court determined the evidence used in the case was flimsy. Women who suffer obstetric complications in Mexico are often criminalized reports the Guardian.
  • Americas Quarterly has a primer on Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador -- everything from his rise from rural southern Mexico to his reading list.
  • Authorities have frozen 221 bank accounts and detained 558 people as part of AMLO's month-old crackdown on oil theft. (Animal Político)
  • Colombia's ELN guerrillas call for peace, but carry out human rights violations that make it impossible, writes Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco in El Tiempo.
  • Colombian cocaine production increases are likely a factor in a strong uptick in cocaine seizures in European ports, reports InSight Crime.
Human trafficking
  • Argentina and Ecuador have improved conviction rates in human trafficking cases, in part due to new legislation and social support programs. (InSight Crime)
  • Check out this history of the Kingdom of Hayti, "the Wakanda of the Western Hemisphere." (Conversation)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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