Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Venezuelan Vote

Woman killed, 3 wounded as tensions rise with Venezuela vote

In Copley Square, Venezuelans cast ballots in act of civil disobedience

Venezuela opposition calls for escalation of street protests

"General strike paralyzes parts of Venezuela as fears of violence mount" by Rachelle Krygierand Anthony Faiola Washington Post  July 20, 2017

Where is that waste barrel?

CARACAS — An anti-government strike paralyzed parts of Venezuela Thursday as the nation’s crisis risked spiraling ahead of a contentious vote that many fear could move the country further down the path of authoritarian rule.

President Nicolás Maduro played down the strike, and some areas in the capital and elsewhere remained relatively unaffected. But in many districts, a large number of businesses were shuttered and protesters blocked roads as the opposition sought to stage Venezuela’s largest general strike since 2002.

In Caracas, the strike was most pronounced in the eastern neighborhoods, a middle- and upper-middle-class bastion. There were also reports of government troops firing tear gas at demonstrators and strikers. In the western city of Maracaibo, witnesses reported closures and said National Guard forces lobbed tear gas at protesters.

‘‘We put up the barricade early, around 5 a.m. . . . The objective is that no one goes to work, that people stay home for 24 hours,’’ said Caracas resident Edmond Fakrhi, 55. ‘‘We want liberty, we want democracy, we want everyone to have access to food.’’

The effort unfolded as Maduro’s unpopular socialist government faced escalating international pressure to back off the special election on July 30. The vote would elect a body to rewrite the 1999 constitution and further squelch the opposition-controlled National Assembly in a move widely viewed by critics as a power grab.

The Trump administration, pressed by prominent US lawmakers, is weighing sanctions up to and including bans on Venezuela’s all-important oil exports if the vote is not called off. In an official report, Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, said Wednesday that there are fears the situation in Venezuela ‘‘will escalate into a bloodbath.’’

How will sanctions help, and it is U.S. policy that has helped drive this. Making Venezuela scream like they did Chile in the early 1970s.

‘‘The reluctance of the international community to act in defense of democracy has allowed the situation to deteriorate incrementally but consistently, to the point where today it has become a full-blown humanitarian and security crisis,’’ Almagro later said at a US Senate hearing. ‘‘Every step of the way it has been too little and too late.’’

And yet the reporting of it here is so sparse.

Pressure was building inside Venezuela, too. The last time the opposition called for a general strike was in October, but that effort did not elicit the widespread street closures seen Thursday. In 2002, a prolonged national strike failed to oust President Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013 and had anointed Maduro as his successor.

That was the 2002 U.S. coup attempt that was turned back by average Venezuelans who insisted Chavez be reinstated. Go do some research.

Unlike the wide popularity enjoyed by Chávez, support for Maduro is fast eroding amid food and medical shortages and runaway inflation. On Sunday, the opposition carried out an unofficial referendum in which more than 7 million voters rejected the government’s bid to draw up a new constitution and demanded national elections. This week, the opposition pledged to form a transitional government as part of its effort to force new elections.

On the streets of Caracas Thursday, Alfredo, a 17-year-old who did not give his last name for fear of reprisals, put up a barricade with his friends, all around his age, at 6 a.m. ‘‘We’re tired,’’ he said. ‘‘We have to take to the streets. And people should do it even if leaders don’t do it. I’m here every day, and I’ll be here today, all day.’’

Government officials, however, remained defiant and deemed the strike a failure. ‘‘The 700 most important businesses in the country are 100 percent working,’’ Maduro said Thursday on national TV. ‘‘Today, work triumphed.’’

The president of the national federation of transportation workers, however, called the strike ‘‘an absolute success.’’

‘‘In Caracas, I’d say almost 90 percent of transportation isn’t functioning, the terminals are paralyzed,’’ said Erick Zuleta, the union leader. ‘‘Buses and cars owned by the government are working, but those affiliated to us aren’t.’’

The precise course that the Trump administration will take on Venezuela remains unclear. On Monday, President Trump called Maduro a ‘‘bad leader’’ and threatened ‘‘strong and swift’’ sanctions if the July 30 vote is not called off. People familiar with the discussions say administration hawks are at odds with officials at the State and Energy departments over just how broad those sanctions should be.

A more narrow approach could target US assets of senior Venezuelan officials. A tougher one, being backed by some in the administration and influential Republicans, could hit Venezuela where it hurts: the oil industry.

A third of the country’s 2.1 million barrels a day is exported to the United States, mostly for refining at facilities in Texas and Louisiana. Oil sanctions could range from limiting the industry’s access to US financial markets to outright bans on imports and re-exports.

Yet Venezuela relies on its oil trade with the United States to finance food and medicine imports, meaning that sanctions are likely to further hit the long-suffering Venezuelan people and potentially fuel anti-American sentiment. They could also cause supply-chain problems in the United States, at least temporarily increasing gas prices slightly. 

That why prices at the pump are up three cents?

But the resulting pressure on the Venezuelan government, some argue, could be a powerful tool at a critical time.

‘‘Trump always criticized [former president Barack] Obama for threatening and not doing anything,’’ said Francisco J. Monaldi, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. ‘‘Just two months ago, I would tell you it’s not going to happen. But I’m hearing from the oil companies that they are all preparing for it.’’ 

For nothing happening? 

If so, good. If not, damn.


The protests continue.


"Trump Administration Slaps Sanctions on Venezuela and Warns of More" New York Times News Service  July 26, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on a host of current and former senior Venezuelan officials on Wednesday and threatened to take more stringent action if President Nicolás Maduro proceeds with plans for a constituent assembly on Sunday that critics consider a danger to democracy.

Steven T. Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, ordered assets in the United States frozen for 13 well-connected Venezuelan figures and barred Americans from doing business with them. Among those targeted by the administration were the interior minister and heads of the army, police, and national guard, as well as government officials involved in the upcoming assembly.

Administration officials urged Maduro to cancel the Sunday assembly or face tougher actions.

The constituent assembly elections are seen by critics as a way to cement Maduro’s hold on power by rewriting the constitution and possibly dissolving state institutions.

Protests against the government have led to arrests and violence.

The administration cited opposition estimates that as many as 15,000 civilians have been wounded in recent protests and more than 3,000 arrested, with 431 political prisoners still behind bars.