Thursday, February 6, 2020

Trump and Guaidó at the White House (Feb. 6, 2020)

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House yesterday. The visit, along with with Guaidó's presence at Tuesday's State of the Union address, showcase the U.S. leader's emphatic embrace of Guaidó's presidential claim. (See yesterday's post.) 

The ratification refutes rumors that U.S. support for Guaidó's leadership was flagging, as the opposition push to oust Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro has lost steam at home. Trump's apparent loss of interest in recent months has hurt Guaidó's credibility in Venezuela, reports the Washington Post. Indeed, the main intention of Guaidó's international tour seems to have been to raise the cost of putting him in jail, writes Francisco Toro in the Post Opinión. Though, "in reality, the way things are, the regime probably doesn't see him as a strong enough threat to make jailing him a priority."

Nonetheless, analysts are skeptical about the implications on the ground in Venezuela, and many argue that instead Trump's moves aim at U.S. voters. "Mr. Trump’s support will provide Mr. Guaidó with a new impulse within his coalition and make it more likely he will be let back into Venezuela without being arrested. However, it does not alter the current political context within the country, which has the opposition coalition on the ropes," argues David Smilde in a New York Times op-ed. Perhaps what is more relevant is what Trump did not say, writes Smilde, namely he didn't push for a military option.

Others said the speech this week could be a harbinger of stronger moves to pressure the Maduro government, reports the New York Times.

Yesterday, a senior administration official said the U.S. government will take unspecified action within 30 days, and said it was preparing “crippling” and “impactful measures” designed to force Maduro from power, reports the Guardian. Energy companies might be targeted, and Reuters reports that a senior official warned that Russia’s Rosneft and U.S.-based Chevron Corp could be affected.

Guaidó, is keeping his cards close after an international tour aimed at shoring up support. During a rally in Miami on Saturday he told supporters "all options are on the table – but also underneath it too."

Trump is unlikely to change his approach, but Smilde outlines what a viable strategy might be: "Rolling back or significantly reformulating economic sanctions could provide relief to the population. Engaging the European Union and countries in the region to impose sanctions multilaterally on Venezuelan government officials could make them more effective. And engaging Russia, China and Cuba in the solution to the Venezuelan conflict could actually be fruitful. Perhaps most important would be a “golden bridge” that could encourage Mr. Maduro to give up power peacefully as the former Colombian president and Nobel Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos suggested. Nobody in conflict offers their head on a platter. Only a plan that ensures a viable and attractive exit for Chavismo could provide them with a reason to let go."

News Briefs

More Venezuela
  • Guaidó is scheduled to meet with several more U.S. officials today, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and US Aid administrator Mark Green, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Maduro authorized local companies to issue securities in hard currency, part of a broader push to liberalize the economy and alleviate a profound crisis, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. sanctions have affected access to medical treatments for children who have undergone transplants, reports Telesur.
News Briefs

  • Brazil's government appointed a former Christian missionary to the protection of the country's isolated indigenous tribes. The association that represents career employees at Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency (Funai) said the move could cause “irreparable damage” to vulnerable groups that have chosen to live in isolation, reports the New York Times. Brazil has a long-standing rule to not contact isolated indigenous tribes, but Ricardo Lopes Dias refused to commit to maintaining the norm.Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, said the appointment "may have the potential to cause genocide among isolated indigenous people," reports the Guardian. The nomination is only the latest in a series of Bolsonaro administration decisions and rhetoric that have put the government on a collision course with indigenous communities.
  • In fact, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro introduced a controversial bill that opens up indigenous lands, many of them in the Amazon, to mining, agricultural activities and hydraulic energy production, yesterday. (AFP) Brazil’s constitution currently does not rule out mining on reservations, but does not allow it because it has not been regulated, notes Reuters.
  • Social media really can be tricky -- Brazil's tourism agency accidentally shared a critical Instagram post from a Rio de Janeiro tourist who complained of being robbed and witnessing violent crime. (Guardian)
El Salvador
  • El Salvador is not ready to receive asylum seekers from the United States and will not accept them until it can offer them the necessary protections and support, Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco said yesterday. El Salvador signed a migration agreement that allows the U.S. to send asylum seekers from other countries to apply for protection there, one of three Central American countries to do so. Guatemala is already receiving asylum seekers sent from the U.S. and Honduras and El Salvador are expected to follow suit, reports the Associated Press.
  • The wall the U.S. is building along its border with Mexico -- actually, it's apparently a "wall system," if you want to get technical -- will cost $18 billion to construct, but potentially billions more to maintain, reports the Washington Post.
  • Guatemala's unemployment rate is the lowest of Latin America -- 2.5 percent. But the rosy statistic hides a paradox: lack of formal employment has pushed most Guatemlans to stop looking for work, which means they're not counted in the formal ranks of the unemployed. (BBC, Al Día)
  • Mexican farmers are clashing with Mexico's government over water payments to the U.S. (Associated Press)
  • Bolivia's interim-leader Jeanine Áñez has deployed foreign policy to win over powerful international allies and bolster her domestic political push, argues Guillaume Long at CEPR.
  • Chilean social organizations urged citizens to participate in the April 26 plebiscite on whether to reform Chile's constitution and convene a constitutional assembly -- though they criticized how the government has structured the consultation, reports Telesur.
  • $100 million in private citizens’ savings placed in Suriname's Central Bank have disappeared. And Vice President Ashwin Adhin's odd explanation that the money had been used to buy potatoes and onions, among other things, only stoked rage among citizens, reports Kaieteur News.
  • Argentina’s Senate passed a bill that would grant the Fernández administration power to handle a massive debt restructuring of bonds issued in foreign currency, reports Reuters.
  • Fernandez’s ability to negotiate at the national level might be harmed by the Buenos Aires province's failed attempt to renegotiate its own debt, according to the Latin America Risk Report. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández promised to end clandestine abortions in the country, and to send a legalization law to lawmakers when the congressional year starts in March. Speaking in France, Fernández said his goal is to guarantee the practice at public hospitals, and, in parallel, to establish protections for pregnant women so that economic necessity does not spur abortions. (Infobae, Página 12)
  • Brazil construction giant Odebrecht has taken Peru to arbitration over a failed $2 billion investment in a gas pipeline. The controversial company, at the center of international corruption cases, argues that it needs to recoup the money to pay debtors in order to navigate its own bankruptcy restructuring, reports Reuters.
  • Gender inequality is one cost that Latin America can't afford, writes the World Bank's Stephanie von Friedeburg in the Post Opinión.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  


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