A US subsidiary of Venezuela’s PDVSA that has been used as collateral for a Russian loan has emerged as a stumbling block to Washington’s moves to impose additional sanctions on Caracas, including a possible ban on US imports of Venezuelan oil, The FT reports:
A Reuters report last week….said Rosneft was negotiating with PDVSA to swap its interest in Citgo for other assets, including new stakes in Venezuelan oilfields and the right to sell Venezuelan oil itself rather than going through PDVSA. ….Luisa Palacios, oil industry analyst at Medley Global Advisors, a consultancy owned by the Financial Times, said the report was credible and that the deal would change the geopolitics of Russia’s involvement in Venezuela.
“This aligns Russia’s economic interests with the survival of the Maduro regime,” she said. “It adds a degree of complexity at the diplomatic level that was not expected in Washington.”
Since early April 2017, tens of thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets to protest the government’s growing authoritarianism. The government has responded with a brutal crackdown. Security forces have shot demonstrators at point-blank range with riot-control munitions, run over demonstrators with an armored vehicle, brutally beaten people who offered no resistance, and broken into homes of suspected opponents. The security forces have also arbitrarily arrested hundreds of demonstrators, bystanders, and critics and prosecuted them in military courts.
“When you see images of the repression, the government’s narrative about a violent coup-plotting opposition falls apart,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Regional leaders should use this evidence to send a clear message to Venezuelan officials and security forces that these actions will not be tolerated and that those responsible will eventually be held accountable.
The Venezuelan crisis is an important test of U.S. resolve in the region. Despite widespread recognition that the situation is deteriorating, the United States has taken little action, observers suggest. “Venezuela is the most serious crisis confronting the region, and there really needs to be a lot of high level U.S. diplomatic pressure there,” according to Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue and a former Latin America program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy.
The U.S. government has warned that it would take “swift economic actions” if the Venezuelan government proceeds with a July 30 move to rewrite the constitution to consolidate power in the hands of President Nicolas Maduro. The statement from the U.S government is widely interpreted as a threat to sanction state-owned oil company PDVSA, the government’s main source of revenue, Oilprice reports.
“My sense is there’s an intensive review on a variety of options,” Shifter told the WSJ “I wouldn’t be surprised about discussions on very severe measures against the Venezuelan government. If so, I hope they do more good than harm.”
So what are the alternatives? The Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola asks. Carlos Vecchio, senior political strategist for the opposition Voluntad Popular party, recently met with U.S. officials and offered several alternatives. Among them:
- Don’t just freeze the accounts and assets of corrupt regime members but publish them in itemized form so the Venezuelan people can see evidence of government corruption for themselves.
- Block the sale of new Venezuelan debt and other government transactions in the U.S. financial system that do not have the approval of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, a body the Maduro government is seeking to squelch. Push the European Union to approve the same sanctions to put a squeeze on the government’s ability to obtain international financing without reinstituting the authority of the National Assembly.
- Block U.S. companies from engaging in future joint projects in the Venezuelan oil industry without the express approval of the National Assembly — thus forcing Maduro to restrain his assault on the legislature.
At the same time, multilateral organizations must be instructed to start working on the details of a generous package for economic recovery to be offered to a new Venezuelan government (giving strong signals to the Venezuelan people that the international community stands by them), says Dany Bahar, a fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution and an associate at the Harvard Center for International Development.
The U.S. government should also increase pressure on other countries in the Western Hemisphere, notably, Caribbean nations, that by aligning themselves with Maduro, they have limited the ability of the Organization of American States to use all tools available at its disposal to pressure the Venezuelan government to give in to the will of its own people, he writes for The Hill.
The proposed Constituent Assembly would deal a crushing blow to Venezuelan democracy, according to the National Democratic Institute:
Instead of following a one person, one vote system, a total of 540 people, mostly composed of government supporters, would have the power to dissolve the democratically elected National Assembly and install a parallel legislature. Given that Venezuelan experts also consider the Supreme Court to be packed with Maduro supporters, this would put the three branches of government firmly in Maduro’s control.
The HRW video includes images of egregious human rights violations by members of the Bolivarian National Police and the Bolivarian National Guard. In many cases, armed pro-government groups, called “colectivos,” have carried out the abuses with collaboration or acquiescence of security forces, HRW adds. The abuses include:
Brutality during massive anti-government demonstrations. Security forces have used a variety of riot control munitions – pellets, marbles, teargas canisters, and other so-called non-lethal cartridges – in response to demonstrations. In several cases these munitions have been used inappropriately, at too close a range or directly targeting people, causing deaths or severe injury….
Arbitrary arrests and prosecutions. More than 4,000 people have been arrested since early April, according to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, a local nonprofit group that provides legal support to detainees….
Breaking into homes. Security forces and colectivos have broken into residential buildings and raided homes without a judicial order, destroying doors and cars, stealing, and beating and detaining residents.
Breaking into the National Assembly. On July 5, security forces allowed armed thugs to assault the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition, and beat up opposition legislators in broad daylight. The attack was coordinated between colectivos and members of the National Guard, according to audio recordings released on July 7.