More U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan officials (Aug. 10, 2017)
The U.S. announced new sanctions on members of Venezuela's government, targeting eight allies of President Nicolás Maduro involved in the creation of the Constituent Assembly, reports the Miami Herald. The assembly is accused of aiding in what Washington said are dictatorial moves by the Maduro administration
Yet those affected are mostly second-tier officials, according to the Wall Street Journal. Officials playing a leading role in the constituent assembly have not been affected.
Officials hit with Treasury sanctions that froze U.S. assets, banned U.S. travel and barred Americans from doing business with targets include a sitting governor, a federal agency chief and a member of the country’s elections authority. Former President Hugo Chávez's brother is on the new list, joining 20 other current and former members of the Venezuelan government, including Vice President Tareck El Aissami.
So far the U.S. has not followed through on threats of broad economic sanctions, a measured approach that has earned praise from regional leaders. But the Trump administration will face pressure from Miami Republicans to follow through with economic sanctions, according to the Herald. Officials told Reuters that those sanctions are still on the table.
Unilateral sanctions won't work, but targeting individual officials could be effective if other Latin American countries follow suit, WOLA's David Smilde told the WSJ. For Venezuelan officials, the costs of not being able to travel or hold money anywhere in Latin America could outweigh the benefits of sticking with Maduro, he said.
Earlier this week, a group of over 50 independent Venezuelan civil society organizations countries of the hemisphere to refrain from adopting unilateral or multilateral sanctions which could “elevate the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela,” a clear reference to recent proposals to sanction the country’s oil sector, reports Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
At least five options exist for new U.S. sanctions, according to a new Atlantic Council report -- more sanctions on individual officials; limiting access to financing for state oil firm PDVSA; ban U.S. exports to Venezuela; ban Venezuelan oil imports; and -- the most severe -- add PDVSA to the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List).
The the U.S. oil industry has opposed such a step, arguing that a potential ban on Venezuelan oil imports would hurt U.S. jobs and drive up gas costs, reports the Associated Press.
Venezuela's crisis -- and the steady news of human rights erosions -- has the region's left divided, reports the Guardian. Venezuela used to garner the broad support of left-wingers. Now some hardliners continue to argue that the crisis is an example of class warfare, while others focus on the unacceptable violent clampdown on dissent.
Perhaps that's because both are true simultaneously. "There are signs that repression and intolerance toward dissent are growing," notes Gabriel Hetland in The Nation. "While the government deserves criticism for its recent actions, the international frenzy concerning Venezuela is unwarranted and reeks of hypocrisy," he argues, advocating a negotiated solution in order to avoid civil war.
"The agony of the crisis consists of this: Millions of Venezuelans are suffering profoundly. They cannot feed themselves properly or obtain the medicine they need. They have very limited access to basic goods like shampoo, diapers, and toothpaste. This makes daily life a struggle. The primary reason for this situation is the government’s inability or unwillingness to take the necessary steps (in particular, desperately neededcurrency reform) to ease the crisis. There is little reason to think that the Constituent Assembly will do anything useful, since it is led by the same people who have presided over Venezuela while the crisis has deepened. Most people inside and outside the country, including many Chavistas, seem to agree that the PSUV’s top leadership is rotten. The idea that this group will “deepen” the Bolivarian Revolution seems highly improbable.
"And yet it is far from clear that Venezuela’s popular sectors would fare any better under an opposition-led government, which would be likely to privatize state-owned resources, deepen the current de facto austerity regime (arising from government policies that make the poor bear the brunt of the crisis), and quite possibly engage in vindictive action against Chavistas, real and alleged. This is why millions continue to support the government, despite significant misgivings. "
Tired of Venezuela news? Why aren't international leaders more concerned with the democratic transgressions of Brazilian President Michel Temer, asks Julia Blunck in a Guardian op-ed.(Hetland's piece above also notes the same double-standard.) "... It’s easy to see that concern about Maduro’s undemocratic abuses don’t necessarily come from actual concern for the welfare of Venezuelan people. Nearby neighbour Brazil has not been analysed or debated at length, even as it demonstrates similar problems. The country’s president, Michel Temer, recently escaped measures that would see him put to trial in the supreme court by getting congress to vote them down. The case against Temer was not a flimsy or partisan one: there was a mountain of evidence, including recordings of him openly debating kickbacks with corrupt businessman Joesley Batista. That a president put into power under circumstances that could be, at best, described as dodgy, manages to remain in power by buying favours from Congress, even as he passes the harshest austerity measures in the world should be enough to raise a few eyebrows internationally. But that has not happened, and Brazil has carried on as most stories about Latin America do: unnoticed and uncommented on."
Evidence against former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is flimsy, and mostly stems from the testimony of one confessed, convicted criminal, writes Mark Weisbrot in The Nation, where he also comments on international media bias.
The Intercept has an in-depth piece on the increasing behind-the-scenes regional presence of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a leadership-training nonprofit now known simply as the Atlas Network. The current rightward shift in regional politics "might appear as part of a larger regional rebalancing, merely economic circumstances taking hold. And yet the Atlas Network seems ever-present, a common thread nudging political developments along. ... Over the years, Atlas and its affiliated charitable foundations have provided hundreds of grants to conservative and free-market think tanks in Latin America, including the libertarian network that supported the Free Brazil Movement and organizations behind a libertarian push in Argentina, including Fundación Pensar, the Atlas think tank that merged with the political party formed by Mauricio Macri, a businessman who now leads the country. The leaders of the Free Brazil Movement and the founder of Fundación Eléutera in Honduras, an influential post-coup neoliberal think tank, have received financial support from Atlas, and are among the next generation of political operatives that have gone through Atlas’s training seminars. The Atlas Network spans dozens of other think tanks across the region, including prominent groups supporting right-wing forces behind the unfolding anti-government movement in Venezuela and the campaign of Sebastián Piñera, the right-of-center candidate leading the polls for this year’s presidential election in Chile.
On the subject of the waning Pink Tide, Next System Project commissioned a series of essays on what can be learned from Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador's experiences in terms of creating system change. Three essays describe some of the institutional innovations implemented in these countries during this time, and to reflect on the relationship between organized citizenry and the state in these transitions in order to elicit lessons learned. "In his essay, pre-eminent Venezuela scholar Steve Ellner explores the radical social programs of the Chávez government and the flexibility that, while allowing for broad-based participation of traditionally marginalized sectors of society, may have inhibited the institutionalization of said programs. In “Evo’s Bolivia: The Limits to Change,” journalist and Bolivia scholar Linda Farthing analyzes the relationship between social movements and the state throughout the Evo years and explores how that relationship may have helped or hindered attempts at land reform, participatory politics, drug policy and environmental protection. Finally, Next System Project Deputy Director, Dana Brown, takes a critical look at the Rafael Correa presidency and Ecuador’s “citizen revolution”comparing the top-down and bottom-up approaches to change that lead to some of Ecuador’s most innovative programs and policies."
Reports of killings of community activists continue to be high in Colombia, reports Human Rights Watch in a Submission to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Advance of its Review on Colombia. The report also focuses on the malnutrition crisis affecting the Wayuu indigenous people in the province of La Guajira; and child recruitment and interference with education. "Numerous abuses against rights activists have been committed in areas where FARC used to have military presence. As FARC demobilizes, crime and activities by other armed groups have surged in many of these areas, especially where illegal mining and drug trafficking are profitable."
Social leader Nidio Davila was killed on Sunday in the department of Nariño and according to witnesses, it was the work of paramilitary forces who wanted to intimidate the community, reports TeleSUR.
Several Salvadoran officials are on trial for their alleged illegal activity related to a controversial gang truce between 2012 to 2014. "The trial over alleged illegal activity related to El Salvador's controversial gang truce has already begun to shed light on new details about the connections between the country's politicians and its gangs, and promises to reveal more in the coming days and weeks," reports InSight Crime.
The U.S. Treasury department also sanctioned Rafael Márquez, the captain of Mexico’s national soccer team, for allegedly acting as a frontman for a drug trafficker, reports the Wall Street Journal. One of the country's most popular players, he was among 21 people named by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for ties to alleged trafficker Raúl Flores Hernández and his organization. The Treasury characterized the sanctions as the largest ever single Kingpin Act action against a Mexican drug-cartel network. The Mexican Attorney General’s Office also seized related assets, including the Grand Casino near Guadalajara, Márquez categorically denied the allegations, reports the Associated Press.
The U.S. state department has expelled two diplomats from the Cuban embassy in Washington. This is related to incidents in Cuba that have physically affected U.S. officials there. Investigators were looking into whether elements of the Cuban government placed sonic devices that produce non-audible sound inside or outside the residences of roughly five US embassy staffers with the intent of deafening them, according to the Associated Press.
Mexico's ruling PRI party is evaluating allowing an outsider to head the party's presidential ticket, a move that would likely benefit Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade, reports Reuters.