Canadian Sanctions on Venezuela’s Maduro

Canada imposed on Friday sanctions on 40 Venezuelan senior officials, including President Nicolas Maduro, to punish what it called “anti-democratic behavior.”

The Canadian move came after similar steps by the United States, which has referred to Maduro as a “dictator.”

The measure, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement, aims to “send a clear message to key figures in the Maduro regime that their anti-democratic behavior has consequences.”

The installation in Venezuela last month of an all-powerful, loyalist assembly that supersedes the country’s opposition-controlled National Assembly triggered international scorn.

Specifically, the sanctions seek to “maintain pressure on the government of Venezuela to restore constitutional order and respect the democratic rights of its people.”

They target 40 Venezuelan officials and individuals, including Maduro himself, who Ottawa says “played a key role in undermining the security, stability and integrity of democratic institutions of Venezuela.”

Others listed include Minister of Defense Vladimir Lopez, Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council, and Vice President Tareck El Aissami.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday he believed there was a chance for a political solution.

“This is a situation that is obviously untenable. The violence … needs to end and we are looking to be helpful,” he told reporters at the United Nations.

Kuwait, Venezuela Deny Existence of a ‘Current Agreement’ to Extend Oil Cut

Kuwait- Each of Kuwait and Venezuela confirmed that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is not nearly close to extending the current cut in production agreement, saying onlookers are trying to introduce the idea into the market.

Kuwait Oil Minister Essam al-Marzouq holds a press conference with Venezuelan Oil Minister Eulogio Del Pino in Kuwait city on Wednesday.

Oil Minister Marzouq said OPEC could hold an extraordinary meeting in mid-March if it did not reach a decision on extending oil production cuts when it meets in November.

The two ministers explained that they are against speculation in the market and false broadcasts are core to negatively affecting price rates at the moment.

OPEC and other major producers, including Russia, agreed at the end of last year to cut oil production by 1.8 million bpd to support rebalancing the market. In May they agreed to extend the agreement until March 2018.

The Venezuelan oil minister said that every time ministers hold any meetings, speculators try to create an environment that suggests there is “confirmation” of a decision to extend the agreement.

Ministers were aiming for oil prices to be at $60 or more a barrel when they first agreed last year to cut output, but crude is trading at $10 less than what they had expected, Del Pino said.

Kuwait and Venezuela are both on the joint ministerial monitoring committee, known as the JMMC, that reviews compliance with the agreed cuts. The committee will meet on Sept. 22 in Vienna, and Marzouq and Del Pino said there will be no serious discussions of an extension then.

“The JMMC meeting next week is to review the agreement and not take any decision,” Del Pino said. “Speculators are trying to create an environment that we will be taking a decision next week.”

Marzouq said the committee is currently considering six scenarios and may discuss a recommendation to ease production targets for countries that aren’t complying fully with the cuts accord. Ecuador announced in July that it won’t be able to meet its target because it needs to boost its revenue.

Nigeria, which together with Libya is exempt from OPEC’s cuts deal due to internal strife, has agreed to join the agreement if it reaches and sustains crude production at 1.8 million barrels day, Kuwait’s Marzouq said.

Nigeria’s oil minister has assured that he will attend the next JMMC meeting, while Libya will send a senior official, probably the head of its national oil company, Marzouq said.

Saudi Arabia Seems Open to Expanding Products’ Cut

Kuwait- Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources Khaled al-Faleh discussed with his counterparts in Venezuela, UAE and Kazakhstan the possibility to consider expanding production cuts as an options in the next meeting of producers in November.

The Saudi ministry sent three separate press statements on Sunday and Monday reporting that Faleh and the three ministers agreed on keeping the expansion an option given the market’s need and circumstances.

Faleh and his Kazakhstani counterpart agreed that the option to expand efforts to re-balance the market will be studied on the right time – they also stressed continuous cooperation in the energy field especially relating the two potential projects in Kazakhstan, stated the Saudi ministry.

In a separate statement on Monday, the ministry stated that Faleh agreed with the Emirati counterpart on possibility of expanding the products cut after March 2018, based on basic factors in the market.

In a related matter, reliable sources reported on Monday that Saudi Arabia will supply full contracted volumes of crude oil to at least five north Asian term buyers in October, while a sixth regional refiner was notified of cuts to its October Arab Extra Light supplies.

The October allocations are in contrast to the steep cuts in the September allotments and reaffirms Saudi Arabia’s desire to maintain its Asian market share. Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest crude exporter.

Saudi Arabia is likely taking advantage of the lower refinery run rates and ample crude inventories in the United States, a trader who specializes in Middle East crude supplies said.

A source from the sixth Asian refiner said that its October supply of Arab Extra Light crude was cut by 10 percent, likely because of repair work in September at Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oilfield, which produces the grade.

French President Meets Venezuela Opposition Leaders

Venezuela

French President Emmanuel Macron met on Monday with Venezuela opposition leaders in an effort to tackle the South American country’s dire humanitarian situation in wake of its ongoing political crisis.

Julio Borges, president of the National Assembly, and Freddy Guevara, the legislature’s first vice president, met the French leader in Paris. They are proceeding with meetings scheduled this week with European leaders aimed at increasing international pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to hold elections, respect a balance of power and allow humanitarian aid.

Borges and Guevara told Macron that Venezuelans are in dire need of basic necessities like food and medicine at the same time that Maduro’s government is stripping away basic civil rights. Borges said Macron asked “several times what he could do to relieve the crisis” and offered the possibility of providing humanitarian aid.

“Dozens of countries have offered free food and medicine and it’s unbelievable that the main obstacle is (the) government, the one which is supposed to defend the rights of the Venezuelan people,” Borges said.

“We want the government of Maduro to open the door to this humanitarian help.”

Hours after the meeting, Macron’s office issued a statement by the president indicating he was ready to push for European sanctions against Maduro’s administration.

Condemning what he called repression of the opposition, Macron said France was ready to launch European discussions “toward adopting measures targeting those responsible for this situation.” He did not elaborate on what he had in mind.

The situation in Venezuela has a particular resonance in France, where the far-left France Unbowed party, currently Macron’s most vocal opponent, backs Maduro.

Monday’s meeting took place two days after a leading activist was barred from leaving Venezuela in order to attend the Paris meeting.

Foreign nations including Spain and the United Kingdom, whose leaders are expected to meet with members of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly this week, have decried the socialist government’s move to bar Lilian Tintori from leaving Venezuela.

Tintori, a prominent opposition activist, was scheduled to attend the meeting with Macron but Venezuelan immigration authorities seized her passport Saturday as she prepared to board her flight.

No official explanation has been given for why Tintori was barred from traveling, but it came a day after she was ordered to appear before a judge to answer questions about a large sum of cash found in her vehicle.

“They cannot silence the voice of 30 million Venezuelans,” Tintori said on her Twitter account, adding that Guevara had given Macron a letter from her.

Those who did make the Europe trip are also scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

In Caracas on Monday, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza summoned ambassadors from Spain, Germany Italy and the United Kingdom to issue a note of protest accusing them of meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

“These types of expressions are absurd and offensive to the functioning of Venezuelan democracy and its institutions,” Arreaza said.

Maduro’s government has been criticized by the United Nations, Washington and other governments for failing to allow the entry of foreign aid to ease a severe economic crisis, while it overrides Venezuela’s opposition-led congress and jails hundreds of opponents.

The opposition won control of congress in 2015. But Maduro’s loyalist Supreme Court has tossed out every major law it has passed as the oil-rich country slips deeper into a recession exacerbated by triple-digit inflation and acute shortages of food and medicines.

UN Rights Chief Says Democracy in Venezuela ‘Barely Alive’

Venezuelan police clash with opposition activists during a protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas.

Geneva, Caracas- The UN human rights office of the high commissioner accused on Wednesday Venezuela of extensive human rights violations and abuses in the context of anti-Government protests, questioning whether democracy was still functioning at all in the crisis-torn country.

President Nicolas Maduro “was elected by the people,” UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told reporters in Geneva, but added that the government’s recent actions “support the feeling that what is left of democratic life in Venezuela is being squeezed”.

Asked about French President Emmanuel Macron’s accusation Tuesday that Maduro was creating a “dictatorship”, Zeid was quoted by AFP as saying that there had been “an erosion of democratic life”.

“It must be barely alive, if still alive.”

His comments came as his office released a fresh report accusing Venezuelan authorities of implementing a policy of repression to crack down on months of street protests against Maduro.

“The generalized and systematic use of excessive force during demonstrations and the arbitrary detention of protesters and perceived political opponents indicate that these were not the illegal or rogue acts of isolated officials,” the report said.

The extent of the violations “points to the existence of a policy to repress political dissent and instill fear in the population to curb demonstrations at the cost of Venezuelans’ rights and freedoms”, it added.

Venezuela, which is suffering from an acute economic crisis marked by shortages of basic goods, has experienced months of street demonstrations against Maduro that have left 125 people dead, according to prosecutors.

“The government must ensure there are prompt, independent and effective investigations of the human rights violations allegedly committed by the security forces,” as well as by pro-government groups and armed protesters, Zeid said.

Maduro Calls for Military Loyalty after Trump’s Threat

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday warned the armed forces against “fissures” in their ranks, ahead of war games seen as a show of strength after US President Donald Trump threatened military action.

“We must be clear, especially for the youth in the military, that we must close ranks within the homeland — that this is no time for any fissures and that those with doubts should leave the armed forces immediately,” Maduro said.

“You are with Trump and the imperialists, or you are with the Bolivarian national armed forces and the homeland,” he added. “Never before has Venezuela been threatened in such a way.”

Maduro launched the warning in a speech to his top military leadership, including General Vladimir Padrino, his defense minister, and General Remigio Ceballos, commander of operational strategy, two days before the drills begin Saturday.

Maduro has faced months of deadly mass protests by opponents who blame him for an economic crisis and are demanding elections to replace him. His main source of support is the military.

Venezuela’s opposition has repeatedly urged the military to abandon Maduro, so far to no avail.

Maduro urged the military to “be prepared to fight fiercely… in the face of an eventual” US invasion.

“They treat us as a dictatorship,” said the embattled president.

Since Trump’s threat, Vice President Mike Pence sought to soften the message, saying during a visit to Latin America that he was sure democracy could be restored in Venezuela through economic and diplomatic pressure.

The Trump administration is considering additional sanctions against Venezuela’s government, including a ban on trading the country’s debt, a US administration official with knowledge of discussions said on Wednesday.

“It is just one option that is being talked about,” the official told Reuters.

So far, Washington has applied economic sanctions directly targeting Maduro, who says the economic collapse that has dragged his country into crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.

The fall in world crude prices has left Venezuela — which has the largest proven oil reserves in the world — short of dollars for vital imports. The country is suffering from shortages of basic goods and medicines.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s government on Thursday ordered cable television providers to cut the signal of
two Colombian networks, a move that critics, including Colombia’s leader, called a crackdown on free speech by
Maduro.

The country’s telecommunications regulator called for RCN and Caracol Television to be taken off the air for broadcasting a message it said incited Maduro’s murder, the office of Venezuela’s presidency said in a statement.

“The measure is within the bounds of the law, given that those stations over several months attacked Venezuela and (its) institutionality,” the statement said, citing Andres Mendez, former head of telecom regulator Conatel.

Venezuela’s Former Top Prosecutor in Brazil

Venezuela’s fugitive former top prosecutor resurfaced in Brazil on Wednesday claiming to possess “a lot” of proof of President Nicolas Maduro’s corruption and to warn that her life remains in danger.

According to AFP, Ortega — speaking at a crime-fighting conference in the Brazilian capital with representatives from the Latin American regional trading alliance Mercosur — said Maduro enriched himself in a massive corruption scheme uncovered at Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht.

“I have a lot of proof, concretely in the Odebrecht case, which implicates many high ranking Venezuelans, starting with the president of the republic,” she said.

“The rule of law has died” under Maduro, she said.

Ortega, who fled Venezuela with her husband German Ferrer last Friday and flew into Brasilia from Panama late Tuesday, said she was still in danger.

“I have received threats that there may be an attempt against my life and I hold the Venezuelan government responsible if this happens,” she told the conference.

Brazil’s prosecutor general said in a statement that he had personally invited Ortega, adding to the intrigue surrounding her fate since being fired by Venezuela’s socialist president this month and charged with misconduct.

On Tuesday, Maduro said Ortega and Ferrer had committed “serious crimes” and should be apprehended. Ferrer is accused by Maduro’s government of corruption and extortion.

However, neighboring Columbia and Brazil have both firmly condemned Maduro’s handling of violent political unrest and economic collapse in his oil-rich country. Venezuela has been suspended indefinitely from the Mercosur group.

“This highlights the split between Venezuela and the majority of the neighboring countries,” foreign policy expert Mauricio Santoro, at the Rio de Janeiro State University, said.

Santoro said the Odebrecht allegations in Brasilia would have particular resonance in the regional setting, given the company’s vast reach and the ever-expanding list of corruption suspects.

Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor Offered Asylum in Colombia

Colombia offered asylum Monday to Venezuela’s sacked chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who fled her country after defying President Nicolas Maduro as a deadly political crisis rages on.

A former loyalist of the socialist leadership, the 59-year-old Luisa Ortega had become Maduro’s most high-ranking critic in Venezuela.

“Luisa Ortega is under the protection of the Colombian government. If she asks for asylum, we will grant it to her,” Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said on Twitter.

Immigration officials in Colombia said she arrived in the country on Friday with her husband, lawmaker German Ferrer, on a private flight from the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba.

Ferrer himself faces an arrest warrant issued by the pro-Maduro Supreme Court.

Venezuelan authorities had banned Ortega from traveling abroad, prompting her to allege “political persecution.”

Maduro has faced months of deadly mass protests by opponents who blame him for an economic crisis and are demanding elections to replace him.

Last month, he set up a new constitutional authority packed with his allies, which a few days later removed Ortega from her post.

Ortega hit back on Friday by claiming she had evidence implicating Maduro and his inner circle in an international bribery scandal involving Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

Colombia’s Santos has joined other regional and world powers in criticizing Maduro.

Maduro’s critics accuse him of clinging to power through undemocratic means in a country stricken by shortages of food and medicine.

Venezuela Ex-Top Prosecutor in Colombia as Constituent Assembly Defies International outcry

Venezuela

Venezuela’s former top prosecutor Luisa Ortega arrived in Colombia on Friday after she was fired by the new controversial Constituent Assembly that has continued to defy international condemnation in its attempts to clamp down on dissent in the South American country.

Ortega broke with socialist President Nicolas Maduro in late March and became a vocal critic of his unpopular government, eventually going into hiding after the newly elected assembly fired her earlier this month.

The assembly fired Ortega during its first session on August 5, but she and some governments in the region have refused to accept the body’s decisions.

“This afternoon the attorney general of Venezuela Luisa Ortega Diaz arrived from Aruba in a private plane to Bogota’s airport and completed the corresponding migration process,” Colombia’s migration agency said in a statement.

She was accompanied by her husband, the legislator German Ferrer, the statement added. It was not clear whether the couple were seeking asylum in Colombia.

The 59-year-old told Reuters in an interview this month that she feared the government would “deprive me of my life.”

Her replacement, ex-human rights ombudsman Tarek Saab, this week outlined corruption accusations against Ortega and her husband.

The couple are accused of running an “extortion gang” and funneling profits into an account in the Bahamas.

More than 120 people have been killed during often violent unrest against Maduro’s government over a crippling economic crisis and what opponents call his increasingly authoritarian rule.

Colombia is among the Latin American countries which have roundly criticized Maduro, while also condemning a suggestion by US President Donald Trump that a military intervention was an option to solve the crisis.

On Saturday, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress rejected the self-proclaimed lawmaking authority of the Constituent Assembly, widening the political divide in the crisis-hit country.

Congress’s declaration of resistance followed statements from a group of 12 regional nations plus the United States on Friday, saying they would continue to regard congress, not the new assembly, as the Venezuela’s only legitimate lawmaking body.

“This is a congress in resistance of an armed military dictatorship that took over its authority and gained militarily what it could not gain at the ballot box,” congress Vice President Freddy Guevara said in a special session.

Venezuela’s ongoing political standoff took another dramatic turn Friday after the constitutional assembly approved a decree taking over congress’ powers to pass legislation of vital importance to the crisis-wracked nation.

Lawmakers and several foreign governments decried the move as an attempt to dissolve congress, although Maduro’s supporters insist lawmakers can continue to meet and have appealed for an agreement so the two bodies can coexist.

Guevara compared the offer to that of a kidnapper allowing his captives to use the bathroom and said lawmakers would only be removed by force.

“They will have to kick us out with bullets,” said Guevara, who tore up a copy of the edict while presiding over the special session. “But we will continue to defend this space the Venezuelan people gave us as long as we have the will and the means to do so.”

Government opponents had warned that the all-powerful constitutional assembly would move to squash dissent following an election for its members last month that was boycotted by the opposition and criticized by many foreign governments as an illegitimate power grab.

In recent days Venezuelans have watched as a steady parade of top officials, including Maduro, kneeled before the assembly charged with rewriting the 1999 constitution and recognized it as the country’s supreme authority.

But when leaders of congress were summoned to do the same on Friday they refused, saying they consider it a betrayal of the 14 million voters who took part in 2015 parliamentary elections that gave Maduro’s critics their first toehold on power in almost two decades of socialist rule.

Guevara accused the government of being desperate to circumvent congress so it can raise badly needed cash by selling off what’s left of Venezuela’s vast oil and mineral wealth to allies like Russia and China.

Venezuela Vows to Jail Protest Leaders as US Urges S. American Pressure on Maduro

Venezuela

Venezuela vowed on Thursday that it would crackdown and jail the leaders of violent protests that have been taking place in the country since April as the US Vice President called on Latin American countries to step up pressure on Caracas.

Venezuela’s new top prosecutor Tarek Saab pledged to track down the leaders of the protests that have left more than 120 people dead.

He made his vow a day before a hate crimes law was expected to be approved despite fears that it will be used to crush dissent. The new law “against hate and intolerance,” denounced by rights groups as a sham aimed at persecuting the opposition, was set to be approved on Friday by a new legislative superbody elected last month at the behest of President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro loyalist Delcy Rodriguez, head of the body known as the constituent assembly, said the law would be passed before the weekend.

“It will be a point of honor for the public prosecutor’s office to identify who was responsible for each of the hate crimes that occurred in this country,” Saab, Maduro’s ex-human rights ombudsman, shouted during a speech to the assembly.

“We will search the cameras, videos, photographs. We will get images of each one of them to make sure they pay for having killed, for having hurt people and left orphans behind,” he said to a standing ovation by the Socialist Party-dominated assembly.

The international community, however, has pointed at the Maduro government, not opposition demonstrators, when assigning blame for deaths.

Venezuelan security forces and pro-government groups were believed responsible for the deaths of at least 73 demonstrators since April, the United Nations said in an August 8 report.

Abuses of protesters, including torture, were part of “the breakdown of the rule of law” in the oil-rich but economically-ailing nation, the report said.

Those found guilty of expressing hate or intolerance will be punished with up to 25 years in jail, according to the vaguely worded hate crimes bill.

Groups like Human Rights Watch say it would give Maduro’s government carte blanche to take opposition leaders out of circulation ahead of October gubernatorial elections.

The assembly has established a truth commission to investigate opposition candidates to ensure that any who were involved in violent protests would be barred from running for governorships, Rodriguez said.

The opposition, which won control of congress in 2015 only to see its decisions nullified by Maduro’s loyalist Supreme Court, boycotted the July 30 election of the constituent assembly. The body has sweeping powers to re-write Venezuela’s constitution and even give Maduro permission to rule by decree.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence urged Latin American leaders to intensify pressure on the Venezuelan government, which many fear is on the cusp of dictatorship and civil war.

He made his remarks during a tour of the newly expanded Panama Canal Thursday as he wrapped up a trip to Latin America. Pence met with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela before departing for Washington Thursday evening.

Pence has spent much of his visit working to assure Latin American allies that the United States remains invested in the region despite President Donald Trump’s “America first” rhetoric.

That mission was complicated by Trump’s surprise suggestion right before Pence left that a “military option” might be on the table for Venezuela. Leaders across the region made clear to Pence that they strongly rejected the suggestion.

“Chile will do its utmost to support Venezuela to find a peaceful way out,” Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Wednesday. “But Chile will not support military interventions, nor coup d’état.”