Monday, January 28, 2019

Venezuela: Pressure Mounts On Maduro

Venezuelans Hand Message of Amnesty as Maduro Speaks From Fort

The prize is Venezuela’s military. And both sides of the deepening crisis are working to win it.
Activists backing National Assembly leader Juan Guaido walked the streets of Caracas Sunday, passing out copies of a measure that promises amnesty against corruption or abuse allegations to any member who defects. Some in uniform seemed willing to receive the documents; others burned theirs.
Meanwhile, at a fort east of the capital, the embattled president, Nicolas Maduro, watched as tanks fired round after round into a dusty valley. The show of force was clearly designed to deliver the message that the National Bolivarian Armed Forces, the ultimate power brokers in Venezuela, are still on his side.
“They want our armed forces to throw a coup,” Maduro told the troops in remarks broadcast on state television. “Well, we’re going to prepare our weapons so no one dares to think of touching our sacred land.”

He dramatically stood his ground. “Traitors never,” he said. “Loyal always."
The battle for control of the military is crucial to the outcome of this power struggle. But so, too, is the scramble for ownership of the crisis-torn country’s few remaining hard assets overseas.
The Bank of England, under lobbying from U.S. officials, denied a request this month by Maduro to pull $1.2 billion of Venezuelan gold out of its vaults. And the Wall Street Journal, in an opinion column by Mary Anastasia O’Grady, reported that the U.S. government, which has recognized Guaido’s claim to the presidency, gave him access to Venezuelan accounts in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and other U.S.-insured banks. The Journal didn’t say how it obtained the information or how much money is in those accounts. U.S. officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment late Sunday.

Still, the question now is about the depth of loyalty among the armed forces, as Guaido taps the deep discontent in a country whose economy has been wrecked by Maduro’s authoritarian brand of socialism.
In a speech Sunday, Guaido called for two more rounds of street demonstrations this week. "We’re doing well,” he said. “We’ve taken giant leaps ahead. We have hope again." Last week, he declared Maduro’s rule and recent re-election illegitimate and declared himself Venezuela’s leader.
With improbable swiftness, that declaration was almost immediately recognized by the U.S. and other nations, many in Latin America, agonized over Venezuela’s plunge from prosperity to poverty and lawlessness under Maduro.
Guaido told The Washington Post Sunday that he was in behind-the-scenes talks with “government officials, civilian and military men.”

Critics say that Maduro has essentially bought off the military, allowing money laundering, fraud, illegal mining and other crimes. And he is counting on them now that his rule is in question.
Guaido’s supporters are intent on winning them over, as he himself quietly reaches out to possible future statesman who would run the government and finances of any new government. Maduro’s top military attache in Washington, Col. Jose Luis Silva, declared loyalty Saturday to Guaido.
Bond investors have taken note of a higher probability of regime change. The country’s benchmark bonds due in 2027, which are currently in default, have jumped 10 cents this month to 33 cents on the dollar, the highest since November 2017.
The talks for an essential shadow government are in the earliest phases but several people have been mentioned.
Most prominent is Ricardo Hausmann, a key economic minister in the 1990s who runs the Venezuela Project at Harvard. He is said to be helping Guaido informally and has already drafted a plan to rebuild the nation, from the economy to energy.
Carlos Vecchio, a political coordinator from Guaido’s Popular Will party, met on Saturday with Elliot Abrams, the U.S.’s new liaison to Venezuela, and has been named business representative to America.
“These appointments won’t help him govern internally, since this can only happen when he’s in power, but if it helps him organize support international and send a message of power,” said Luis Vicente Leon, president of the Caracas-based pollster Datanalisis.

Venezuela's self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido called Sunday for two new protests, in an effort to push the military to turn against leader Nicolas Maduro and back a European ultimatum demanding free elections within the week.

In a video posted on Twitter, the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly said the first of the nationwide strikes, on Wednesday from noon to 2:00 pm (1600-1800 GMT), would be one "to demand that the armed forces side with the people."
The second, on Saturday, will be a "big national and international rally to back the support of the European Union and the ultimatum" from Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands that they would recognize Guaido as interim president unless Maduro calls elections by February 3.
The EU was more vague, saying it would take "further actions" if elections were not called in the coming days, including the issue of recognition of the country's "leadership."
Australia, meanwhile, said it "recognizes and supports" Guaido as interim president pending elections. And Italy has called for "a rapid return to democratic legitimacy."
The United States separately warned there would be a "significant response" if US diplomats, Guaido or the opposition-controlled National Assembly were targeted with violence and intimidation.

President Nicolás Maduro faced increasing international pressure on Saturday, as European governments threatened to recognize his chief opponent as Venezuela's leader unless a plan for new elections is announced within eight days.
The statements from Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Britain came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed the United Nations to throw its support behind Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, who declared himself president on Wednesday.

The United States and most Latin American countries have recognized Guaidó as interim leader in recent days, after Maduro was sworn in for a second term following elections riddled with fraud. But Russia, China and others have defended Maduro. Guaidó's actions have represented the most significant challenge yet to Maduro, whose socialist policies have contributed to an economic meltdown in this oil-rich country.
"After banning opposition candidates, ballot box stuffing and counting irregularities in a deeply flawed election it is clear Nicolas Maduro is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela," Jeremy Hunt, Britain's foreign minister, tweeted Saturday.
Maduro responded to the U.S. recognition of Guaidó on Wednesday by severing relations and giving American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. Pompeo, however, declared that Maduro's orders were no longer legitimate and that the embassy would remain open. As the deadline approached on Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas appeared to still be functioning. There was no sign of any unusual Venezuelan security presence at the massive, reinforced-concrete building in the Andean foothills.
A convoy of official vehicles rolled out of the embassy a day earlier, as the State Department withdrew non-emergency personnel and diplomats' families from the country. More staff were expected to depart on Saturday and Sunday.

A host of foreign powers including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and over a dozen Latin American states were quick to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela's president earlier this week. The opposition leader declared himself interim president in a move embattled President Nicolas Maduro labeled a U.S. orchestrated coup. As well as having the support of Venezuela's military, Maduro still has widespread international backing including support from Russia, China and Mexico, amongst others, according to Bloomberg

The declaration from Guaido comes after two nights of protests in the country which have led to the deaths of at least 14 people.
As Statista's Martin Armstrong notes, Venezuela's problems are extensive and varied, with political, social and economic crises making life in the country very difficult. As Statista's infographic shows, this has led to a huge increase in migration out of the country.
You will find more infographics at Statista
In 2015, there were almost 700,000 Venezuelans living in other countries. Fast forward to July 2018 and this figure has risen to 2.3 million - representing 7 percent of the country's population. These are only the official figures, too. The actual number that have fled the country is thought to be much higher.

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