Category Archives: Venezuela

(EUobserver) EU draws up Venezuela torture sanctions

(EUobserver)

The EU “is ready to start work toward applying targeted measures for those members of the security forces involved in torture and other serious violations of human rights” in Venezuela, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday. Spain had pushed for sanctions over allegations that Rafael Acosta, a navy captain and opposition figurehead, had been tortured to death in custody. “She [Mogherini] threatens us with loathsome comments”, Venezuela said.

(NYT) Venezuela Forces Killed Thousands, Then Covered It Up, U.N. Says

(NYT) Venezuela’s Special Action Forces carrying out a security operation in Caracas in April.CreditYuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Venezuela’s Special Action Forces carrying out a security operation in Caracas in April.
Venezuela’s Special Action Forces carrying out a security operation in Caracas in April.CreditCreditYuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

GENEVA — Venezuelan special forces have carried out thousands of extrajudicial killings in the past 18 months and then manipulated crime scenes to make it look as if the victims had been resisting arrest, the United Nations said on Thursday in a report detailing wide-ranging government abuses targeting political opponents.

Special Action Forces described by witnesses as “death squads” killed 5,287 people in 2018 and another 1,569 by mid-May of this year, in what are officially termed by the Venezuelan government “Operations for the Liberation of the People,” United Nations investigators reported.

Laying out a detailed description of a lawless system of oppression, the report says the actual number of deaths could be much higher. It cites accounts by independent groups who report more than 9,000 killings for “resistance to authority” over the same period.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that many of these killings constitute extrajudicial executions committed by the security forces,” the investigators said.

The report, which the United Nation human rights chief Michelle Bachelet will present to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday, delivers a scathing critique of President Nicolás Maduro’s embattled government and its handling of Venezuela’s deepening political and economic crisis.

Since 2016, the report says, the government has pursued a strategy “aimed at neutralizing, repressing and criminalizing political opponents and people critical of the government.”

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry rejected the findings on Thursday, saying the report offered a “distorted vision” that ignored most of the information presented by the government to United Nations researchers.The officers frisked a group of men during one operation in Caracas.CreditYuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The officers frisked a group of men during one operation in Caracas.
The officers frisked a group of men during one operation in Caracas.CreditYuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The analysis is not objective, nor impartial,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, listing what it said were numerous errors. “The negative points are privileged in the extreme and the advances or measures adapted in the area of human rights are ignored or minimized.”

The Special Action Forces, known locally by their Spanish acronym FAES, are nominally tasked with combating drug trafficking and crime, but United Nations human rights officials said they were concerned the government was using these and other security forces “as an instrument to instill fear in the population and to maintain social control.”

Families of 20 young men who were killed in the last year described a pattern of violence in which the FAES units arrived in pickup trucks without license plates, dressed in black and with their faces covered by balaclavas.

They broke into houses, seized belongings and molested women, forcing some to strip naked. Then “they would separate young men from other family members before shooting them,” the investigators reported.

In every case described to the investigators, attackers manipulated the crime scene. “They would plant arms and drugs and fire their weapons against the walls or in the air to suggest a confrontation and to show the victim had resisted authority,” the report says.

The investigators said they had also documented the execution of six young men carried out during one of the house raids, the killings done as a reprisal for their participation in anti-government demonstrations.

Five special forces members were convicted of attempted murder and other offenses in 2018, and another 388 members were under investigation for abuses, according to the report. But few victims, it says, have access to justice or any redress.

The report also describes routine abuse by security and intelligence services of people detained for political reasons. In most of the cases, men and women were subjected to one or more forms of torture, including electric shock, suffocation with plastic bags, water boarding, beating and sexual violence. Women were dragged by their hair and threatened with rape, the report says.

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The detentions often had no legal basis, according to the report, which says that more than 2,000 people were arrested for political reasons in the first five months of the year and more than 720 were still detained at the end of May.A member of the Special Action Forces taking part in a security operation.CreditYuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A member of the Special Action Forces taking part in a security operation.
A member of the Special Action Forces taking part in a security operation.CreditYuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Human rights activists welcomed the spotlight the report is turning onto government repression and abuses. “The government’s reaction shows it hits the right points,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.

But Ms. Taraciuk expressed disappointment that the report stops short of urging the United Nations to set up a commission of inquiry. It calls instead for the government to set up an independent investigation, with some unspecified international participation.

“You cannot ask Venezuelan courts, which have no independence, to investigate the executive,” she said.

The report comes two weeks after Ms. Bachelet visited Venezuela. Its hard-hitting tone was especially eye-opening, given her political background. In her second term as Chile’s left-leaning president from 2014 to 2018, she was among the few South American leaders who refused to openly criticize Mr. Maduro’s growing authoritarianism.

The Venezuelan government had tried to use Ms. Bachelet’s visit to bolster Mr. Maduro’s international legitimacy. More than 50 nations, including the United States, have stopped recognizing himas Venezuela’s legitimate leader, calling his re-election last year fraudulent.

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Ms. Bachelet’s team was given unusual access inside Venezuela, unlike that given to her predecessor or to other United Nations agencies. Mr. Maduro heavily publicized his meeting with Ms. Bachelet and promised to consider allowing her to open a full-time office in the country. The government also agreed to allow two United Nations human rights staff members to work in the country and said it would give them full access to detention centers.

But any hopes that her visit paved the way for a government change of course on human rights were quickly dampened by the news days later of the death in custody of a Navy captain, Rafael Acosta, who was detained the day Ms. Bachelet’s visit ended. His lawyer said he had been in good health at the time of his arrest, but he died in a military hospital a week later showing visible signs beatings.

Ms. Bachelet expressed her shock at Captain Acosta’s death and called for an investigation, but human rights groups said it showed the limited outcome from her visit.

“This case shows that the government of Venezuela is not taking her seriously,” Ms. Taraciuk said.

(WP) Maduro’s ex-spy chief lands in U.S. armed with allegations against Venezuelan government

(WP) Exclusive interview: Maduro’s ex-spy chief reveals allegations against government

Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, the ex-spy chief of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, sat down for an exclusive interview with The Washington Post. (Photo: Josh Ritchie/The Washington Post)By Anthony FaiolaJune 24 at 8:42 PM

[Leer en español]

BOGOTA, Colombia — In a palace said to befilled with plotters, turncoats and thieves, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro could count on the loyalty of at least one man: Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera. 

The muscular 55-year-old was one of the revolution’s true believers, having spent a decade as security chief for the late Hugo Chávez, the father of Venezuela’s socialist state and Maduro’s mentor. He studied the art of intelligence with the masters in communist Cuba. He reached the zenith of his power in October with his appointment as head of Maduro’s intelligence police — the feared SEBIN.

And yet, when the U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó announced his uprising April 30 to oust Maduro, Figuera emerged as a surprise conspirator — and, as the uprising failed, a man suddenly sprinting for his life into the hands of U.S. operatives in neighboring Colombia.

After nearly two months in hiding here in the Colombian capital, protected around the clock by a security detail, Figuera arrived in the United States on Monday armed with allegations about Maduro’s government:The illicit gold deals. The Hezbollah cells working in Venezuela. The extent of Cuban influence inside Maduro’s Miraflores Palace.

The uprising failed, and Maduro remains in power. But Figuera doesn’t regret turning against his boss.

“I’m proud of what I did,” he said last week from a hotel room in central Bogota. “For now, the regime has gotten ahead of us. But that can quickly change.”

This is the story of how the opposition turned a man once thought to be unturnable — and the information he is now sharing with U.S. officials. It’s based on weeks of interviews with more than a dozen plot participants, opposition leaders and U.S. officials, including 12 hours of exclusive interviews with Figuera, his first with a major news organization, and by far his most exhaustive.

The opposition and the Americans have celebrated a measure of victory with the defection of Figuera — evidence, they say, that they have been effective and their effort remains viable even after the collapse of the uprising.

But as head of the SEBIN, Figuera ran an agency accused of arbitrary detentions and torture. He was one of five senior Venezuelan officials placed under sanctions by the Trump administration in February. His wooing indicates the moral trade-offs Maduro’s opponents have been willing to make in the effort to remove him.

Figuera defends his work advancing Chavismo. But he says he regrets some of its excesses.

“I have a big debt with the people who are still in jail,” hesaid, fighting back tears. “The people who had family members die and couldn’t even see them. This breaks me.” 

He continued: “There are many people there who are innocent, and I owe them. I didn’t do enough.

“I thought I would be able to make Maduro see sense. I couldn’t.”

[Guaidó says opposition overestimated military support for uprising]Cat and mouse

On the balmy Caracas evening of March 28, the plotters against Maduro staged one of their riskiest gambits. Cesar Omaña, a 39-year-old Venezuelan physician, businessman and adventurer, nervously entered the towering headquarters of the SEBIN on a mission to recruit its chief.

Omaña, based in Miami, was living between two worlds. He was close friends with one of Chavez’s daughters and senior Maduro officials, as well as members of the anti-government opposition. Unlike other Venezuelan businessmen involved in the plot, he has not been charged with crimes and had no U.S. sanctions against him. But he was distraught by his country’s collapse under Maduro.

By November, Omaña was in frequent contact with U.S. officials, according to Omaña and the officials. He also established regular contact, even a budding friendship, with the opposition leader Leopoldo López — then Venezuela’s most famous political prisoner, and Guaidó’s mentor.

Juan Guaidó, president of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly, left, and opposition leader Leopoldo López greet supporters during the April 30 uprising. (Cristian Hernandez/AFP/Getty Images)

Omaña was nervous about meeting Figuera.

“He was the third-most powerful man in the country,” he said, sitting next to Figuera in Bogota last week in a black Top Gun ball cap and Yohji Yamamoto sneakers. “He could have just arrested me.”

Figuera was on the Americans’ radar screen. The sanctions froze any U.S.-based assets — he says he didn’t have any — and prohibited Americans from doing business with him. U.S. officials have said publicly that Maduro loyalists who turn against him may have their sanctions lifted.

Omaña and Figuera commenced a kind of cat-and-mouse game, each trying to draw out the other.

“I told him, ‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ ” Figuera said.

Omaña launched into the opposition plan, then still being worked out.

“We talked about South Africa and Mandela,” Omaña said. “And we eventually spoke about an initial plan, a reconciliation law. Convincing Maduro to leave.”

“I told him I was ready to see Maduro leave,” Figuera said. 

“And I said, ‘Yes, you’re watching the game, but not playing in it,’ ” Omaña said. “And that kind of broke the ice . . .

“That’s when the conspiracy started.”

[Inside the secret plot to turn senior Venezuelan officials against Maduro]Plan to flip the supreme court

In fact, another group of conspirators had already sprung into action.

In February, a group of Venezuelan businessmen, including media mogul Raúl Gorrín, who was put under sanctions by Washington and indicted on U.S. charges of money laundering, approached the Americans with a plan. The centerpiece, according to several people familiar with it: flipping key Maduro loyalists, including the chief justice of Venezuela’s supreme court, Maikel Moreno.

The men had been serving as interlocutors between the Trump administration and members of the regime, the people familiar with the plan said, and were eager to improve their own situations with the United States, where they were used to sending their children to school and their wives on weekend shopping sprees.

According to one senior administration official, the businessmen were told that if they were successful, travel bans and asset freezes could be reversed. The administration would not intervene with the Justice Department to lift indictments — but might put in a good word for those who were helpful.

Maikel Moreno, left, chief justice of Venezuela’s supreme court, at a ceremony in January to open the judicial year with President Nicolás Maduro. (Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)

“All we can do is to make the case to DOJ,” said the official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy issues.

Gorrín did not respond to a request for comment.

The businessmen were working to entice the chief justice to turn against Maduro. Their plan, according to several people familiar with it: Moreno would issue a ruling that would restore the authority of the opposition-controlled National Assembly. The assembly had already recognized Guaidó as interim president. Maduro would be forced aside.

Officials in Washington were kept informed of the plot’s progress, according to several people familiar with the situation, and offered regular advice on steps forward. But the plot itself, Venezuelan participants and U.S. officials say, was homegrown in Venezuela.

Moreno would be allowed to stay on as chief justice in a transitional government. But people involved in the talks say Moreno also demanded tens of millions of dollars, to secure votes on the court and provide a safety net for himself. Figuera said he intercepted conversations on WhatsApp indicating that the total pool of cash demanded by Moreno had topped $100 million. 

One of the businessmen involved in the alleged offer said U.S. officials were told about it. He said the Americans didn’t endorse the idea, but they didn’t object.

Two senior U.S. officials denied knowing about the offer before April 30. It was only after the uprising crumbled, one said, that Washington learned of Moreno’s demand for cash.

[How a plot filled with intrigue and betrayal failed to oust Venezuela’s president]Hezbollah, ELN and money

After his meeting with Omaña, Figuera said, he felt a spark of hope. He had worked for years in military intelligence. But his new job as head of the SEBIN, he said, had opened his eyes to the extent of the rot in Maduro’s government.

“I never saw the country’s situation and the government’s corruption as closely as I did during my last six months,” he said. “I quickly realized that Maduro is the head of a criminal enterprise, with his own family involved.”

Figuera had begun to investigate allegations about a company set up by an assistant to Maduro’s 29-year-old son, Nicolás Maduro Guerra. He said the company had established a monopoly on buying gold from small miners in the country’s south at discounted prices and selling it at elevated prices to Venezuela’s central bank.

He was preparing to go to Maduro with the information, he said, but was warned off by a key Maduro aide.

Members of the SEBIN, the Venezuelan intelligence agency, stand guard outside the house of former police commissioner Iván Simonovis in Caracas. (AFP/Getty Images)

Figuera said he uncovered what he described as money laundering involving then-Vice President Tareck El Aissami, now Maduro’s minister of industries, who has been placed under sanctions and indicted in the United States on drug-trafficking charges.

El Aissami has publicly denied any wrongdoing. Neither he nor the other officials named by Figuera for this article responded to requests for comment submitted to Venezuela’s Ministry of Communications. The Washington Post could not independently confirm Figuera’s allegations.

Figuera said he saw intelligence indicating that illegal groups were operating in Venezuela with the protection of the government. They included members of the Colombian guerrilla group ELN, active around mining areas in southern Bolivar state and promising to provide a first line of defense should foreigners invade Venezuela.

He said he saw intelligence that Hezbollah had operations in Maracay, Nueva Esparta and Caracas, apparently geared toward illicit business activity to help fund operations in the Middle East.

“I found that the cases of narco-trafficking and guerrillas were not to be touched,” Figuera said.

[As Venezuela’s misery grows, U.S. focus shifts to Cuba’s role]Raúl Castro on the phone

Yet the inner workings of a dysfunctional government divided among the personal fiefdoms of warring officials caused him the most despair.

He recalled a meeting with Iris Varela, Maduro’s fiery minister of prisons, and Vladimir Padrino López, Maduro’s defense minister. He said Varela was demanding 30,000 rifles to start her own private army.

“She said that she had trained male prisoners,” Figuera said. “That she was their commander.”

Maduro, meanwhile, relied on 15 to 20 Cubans for personal security. Some were military guards, Figuera said. But three Cubans, called “the psychologists,” served as special advisers who would analyze Maduro’s speeches to assess their public impact.

Figuera saw Maduro multiple times a week at cabinet meetings. When he sought a one-on-one meeting this year, hewas told to go through “Aldo” — a Cuban.

“I was like, ‘What?’ I’m his intelligence chief, and I have to go through a Cuban to be able to meet with him?”

Power outages nationwide paralyzed Venezuela in March. Figuera and other senior officials were in a meeting with Maduro when Raúl Castro called, Figuera said. Maduro took the phone into a corner of the room to speak to the former Cuban president.

Maduro, left, meets with Raúl Castro, Cuba’s former president, in Havana last December. (Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images)

When the call ended, Figuera said, Maduro appeared relieved. Castro had promised to dispatch a team of Cuban technicians to help solve the problem.

“Raúl Castro was like an adviser for Maduro,” Figuera said. “If he was in any meeting, it would be interrupted if Castro was on the phone.”

In April, Figuera said, he delivered a message to Maduroin a locked suitcase. Only he and Maduro had the code. He described the country’s situation as deplorable and suggested new elections.

Maduro texted him the next day. 

“He called me a coward, a defeatist,” Figuera said. “That’s when I knew I had to act.”

[As sanctions bite in Cuba, the U.S. — once a driver of hope — is now a source of pain]‘Maduro was very nervous’

In the days following Omaña’s visit, Figuera said, he began meeting with Omaña’s top ally in the opposition. Leopoldo López had been shuttled between house arrest and a prison cell since 2014. Gaining access was no problem — Figuera, as head of the SEBIN, was his jailer.

During these meetings, Figuera said, he learned of the uprising planned for May 1. Moreno would issue the ruling reinstating the National Assembly. Padrino, the defense minister, would back the ruling and force Maduro out.

According to Figuera, the plotters were all given code names. Figuera, an Afro-Venezuelan, was the Black Panther. Omaña was Superman. Mauricio Claver-Carone, the U.S. National Security Council’s director for Latin American policy, was Comeniños — the Child Eater.

But as May 1 approached, Figuera said, he grew uneasy. During an April 23 meeting at Moreno’s Caracas mansion, he thought the chief justice seemed hesitant. Moreno suggested that he, rather than Guaidó, become president, according to several people who were present.

On April 27, Figuera met with Moreno and Padrino at Padrino’s home.

“It was a short conversation,” Figuera said. “They kept looking at each other nervously.” 

Figuera called Padrino the next day to reassure himself that the defense chief was still on board. But Padrino was watching “Avengers: Endgame,” Figuera said, and “didn’t want to talk.”

Neither Moreno nor Padrino responded to requests for comment.

Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López delivers a speech in Caracas in February. Behind him are portraits of Simón Bolívar and Hugo Chávez. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

Opposition officials have said they moved up the date of the operation by one day because they heard that Guaidó might be arrested. Figuera said he was the one who accelerated the time­table.

On April 29, Figuera said, he learned that Maduro’s feared colectivos were preparing a large-scale assault on a May Day protest that could result in a “bloodbath.”

He told Padrino of the new timetable himself. 

“Are you crazy?” Padrino responded, in Figuera’s telling. “What about the ruling? How are you going to do it?”

“It’s happening,” Figuera said he responded. “If not, May 1 will be bloody. . . . We have to move fast.”

Figuera and other plotters said they received confirmation that Moreno was prepared to issue his ruling on April 30. But after hearing Padrino’s skepticism, Figuera said, he began calling other military figures.

The plan, he insisted, had to move forward. But as it did, in the early hours of April 30, it began to fall apart. 

Guaidó signed a pardon freeing López from house arrest. Guaidó  and López made their triumphant predawn appearance at the La Carlota military base in Caracas and called for the military and the people to rise up.

Figuera drove around Caracas to see who was joining the effort.

His phone rang. It was his boss.

“Maduro was very nervous,” Figuera said. “He kept asking me, ‘What’s happening?’ ”

Maduro kept calling. Finally, around 6:30 a.m., Maduro told Figuera to report to the infamous Helicoide Prison.

“I called my wife and told her, ‘I’m going to have to turn myself in.’ ”

[Venezuela’s opposition, government pursue talks to resolve crisis; U.S. skeptical]Still a Chavista at heart

Barbara Reinefeld, Figuera’s wife, was with family in Miami when her smartphone rang. Her husband ran through the failed plot and Maduro’s final order.

She insisted that he not turn himself in, that he make a run for the border. 

Two months earlier, during a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, Reinefeld had been contacted by two people who identified themselves as FBI agents. They interviewed her, she said, and established a system to communicate with her covertly.

Figuera said that he blessed this back channel but that he had no communication with the Americans himself.

Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, photographed in an undisclosed location after arriving in the United States on Monday. (Josh Ritchie/For The Washington Post)

Soon after her husband’s April 30 call, Reinefeld was contacted by Venezuelans in Miami, one of them a relative of Guaidó. A senior Trump administration official was aware of her plight, they said, and offered to meet her in Washington.

She flew to Washington on May 1 and received assurances that her husband would be safe if he got to Colombia. Figuera, tapping military contacts on the ground, fled the country, arriving in the border city of Cúcuta on May 2, where he was greeted by Colombian intelligence officers .

The next day he was in Bogota, meeting with U.S. officials.

Moreno, Padrino and other Maduro loyalists have said publicly that they had no part in the plot. Two days after the uprising failed, Padrino appeared with Maduro and suggested that he had refused the opposition’s overtures.

“Don’t come and buy us with a false offer . . . as if we didn’t have dignity,” he said.

Within a week of Figuera’s arrival in Colombia, the Trump administration lifted the sanctions against him.

Figuera says he has had a rocky time in his initial debriefings with U.S. officials. He has recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader but remains, at heart, a Chavista. He and others believed his life was threatened by Colombian guerrillas aligned with the Venezuelan government. Omaña arrived in Bogota last week to help negotiate Figuera’s safe passage to the United States.

Figuera is a product of the socialist government he served for years. He says he regrets some, but not all, of his actions on its behalf.

“If I told you I was Mother Teresa, you would not take me seriously,” he said.

(ZH) Venezuela Defaults On $750 Million Gold-Backed Swap With Deutsche Bank

(ZH)

Somewhere Hugo Chavez, who several years ago successfully repatriated much of Venezuela’s gold, is spinning in his grave.

It started in March, when Venezuela’s embattled leader Nicolas Maduro defaulted on a $1.1 billion gold-backed loan with Citi, in the process losing several tons of gold placed as collateral by Venezuela’s central bank after the deadline for repurchasing them expired. Now, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela has also defaulted on a gold swap agreement valued at $750 million with Deutsche Bank, prompting the German bank to seize the precious metal which was used as collateral, and close out the contract.Maduro and a stack of 12 Kilogram gold ingots.

As part of a financing agreement signed in 2016 which we profiled here, Venezuela received a cash loan from Deutsche Bank and put up 20 tons of gold as collateral. The agreement, which was set to expire in 2021, was settled early due to missed interest payments as Venezuela has now effectively run out of foreign reserves.

It was the second time this year that the Maduro’s regime has failed to make good on financing agreements which have resulted in losses at a time when gold reserves are already at a record low. As we have noted previously, for example in “Venezuela Prepares To Liquidate Its Remaining Gold Holdings To Pay Coming Debt Maturities” Venezuela’s dwindling gold holdings had become one of Maduro’s last remaining sources of cash keeping his regime afloat and his military forces loyal. Before the central bank missed the abovementioned March deadline to buy back gold from Citigroup for nearly $1.1 billion, the Bank of England refused to give back $1.2 billion worth of Venezuelan gold.

Meanwhile, as Bloomberg reports, opposition leader Juan Guaido’s parallel government has asked the bank to deposit $120 million into an account outside President Nicolas Maduro’s reach, which is the difference in price from when the gold was acquired to current levels.

“We’re in touch with Deutsche Bank to negotiate the terms under which the difference owed to the central bank will be paid to the legitimate government of Venezuela,” said Jose Ignacio Hernandez, Guaido’s U.S.-based attorney general. “Deutsche Bank can’t risk negotiating with the central bank’s illegitimate authorities,” particularly after it was sanctioned by the U.S. government, Hernandez said, even though the military has stubbornly refused to go along with the US attempted government coup, leaving the seized gold in limbo.

While insolvent Venezuela, which defaulted on its dollar-denominated bonds in 2017, is becoming increasingly cut off from the global financial network due to sanctions, it still managed to sell $570 million in gold last month, prompting total foreign reserves to tumble to a 29-year low of $7.9 billion.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has not only become a symbol of the destructive influence of socialism and associated hyperinflation, but a case study of how to obliterate the only real hard currency left when everything else is gone: the government managed to blow through more than 40% of Venezuela’s gold reserves last year, selling to firms in the United Arab Emirates and Turkey in a desperate bid to fund government programs and pay creditors.

(Reuters) Trump: Russia told U.S. ‘most of their people’ have left Venezuela

(Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday that Russia told the United States it had removed “most of their people” from Venezuela, where Moscow has maintained military and economic ties with socialist President Nicolas Maduro.U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are seen at Westminster Abbey as part of their state visit in London, Britain June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Trump posted a message on Twitter about the alleged Russian drawdown while on a state visit to London but did not provide any further details.

The Trump administration, which backs opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate interim president, has insisted that Russian and Cuban support for Maduro has been essential to keeping him in power and has called for them to withdraw security personnel.

Moscow sent nearly a hundred Russian special forces and cybersecurity personnel to Caracas in March, U.S. officials have said. Private military contractors who do secret missions for Russia flew into Venezuela in late January to beef up security for Maduro, according to people close to them.

“Russia has informed us that they have removed most of their people from Venezuela,” Trump tweeted.

It was unclear exactly who Trump was referring to or how this was communicated to him, and the White House did not provide any clarity. There was also no immediate word from Moscow.

However, if true, it could mark a significant setback for Maduro.

Trump’s tweet followed a Wall Street Journal article on Sunday that said Russia’s state defense contractor Rostec had cuts its staff in Venezuela to just a few dozen, citing a person close to the Russian defense ministry.

Most other Western countries also support Guaido, who invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

Maduro has the backing of Russia, China and Cuba and continues to control most state institutions, including the military.

Trump, who had previously called for Russia to “get out” of Venezuela, said following a phone call with President Vladimir Putin last month that the Russian leader was “not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela.”

Trump’s comments appeared to contradict his aides’ harsher assessments of Russia’s role in the crisis-stricken South American country.

(NBC) Venezuela gives a rare look at its economy. It’s an ugly, ugly picture

(NBC)

Venezuela’s economy is in shambles and the country has plunged into political chaos. The dysfunction is so great that basic economic data has been hard to come…Wednesday, May 29th 2019, 4:14 PM EDTBy Jorge Luis Prez Valery and Abdel Alvarado, CNN Espanol

Venezuela’s economy is in shambles and the country has plunged into political chaos. The dysfunction is so great that basic economic data has been hard to come by.

On Tuesday, for the first time in three years, the Central Bank of Venezuela published statistics on the country’s battered economy. The bank’s records show that in the third quarter of 2018, gross domestic product contracted a shocking 22.5% over the prior year.

Bank records showed that the country’s GDP has been in decline since the start of 2014 — contracting 52% between the third quarter of 2013 and the third quarter of 2018. That means the size of Venezuela’s economy was reduced by half in a span of five years.Follow this story to get email or text alerts from NBC2 when there is a future article following this storyline.Follow this story

Price inflation is out of control in Venezuela. The inflation rate hit 130,060% in 2018, according to the new data.

Runaway inflation has decimated Venezuela. As the value of money and wages has become worth less and less, the despair on the population has deepened.

The inflation rate revealed Tuesday was the highest in Venezuela’s recent history. It was lower than previous reporting from the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which calculated the figure at almost 1,700,000%.

In contrast to both, the International Monetary Fund estimated that last year, Venezuela’s inflation was 929,797%. In the United States, by comparison, inflation hovered around 2% last year.

The Central Bank of Venezuela data also highlighted a huge drop in oil exports — which has decimated an economy heavily reliant on the sale of oil on the world markets. In 2013, the country exported about $85 billion worth of oil. That number fell to $35 billion in 2015 and $30 billion last year.

Venezuela has more oil reserves than any other nation. But production has collapsed following years of underinvestment and the country’s current crisis. The fall in oil production occurred before the United States announced sanctions against the Venezuelan oil industry earlier this year. Shipments to the United States, long Venezuela’s leading customer, have since vanished.

The reports appeared to confirm earlier research by the IMF and the World Bank that have chronicled the collapse of the Venezuelan economy.

The central bank did not announce the data release in advance, and the government of embattled President Nicols Maduro has not commented on why the figures were released or the data itself.

(Reuters) Venezuela opposition’s envoy to U.S. meets Pentagon, State Department officials

(Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Venezuelan opposition’s envoy to the United States said he met Pentagon and State Department officials in Washington on Monday to discuss “all aspects of the Venezuelan crisis.”

Carlos Vecchio, opposition leader Juan Guaido’s ambassador to Washington, said in a message on Twitter that the talks held at the State Department had been “very positive” but offered no further details. “We continue to advance,” he said.

The talks were arranged at the request of Guaido, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly who invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

The United States and many European and Latin American countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader. But Maduro retains control of state functions and the support of the military’s top brass, as well as allies such as Russia, Cuba and China.

The purpose of Monday’s meeting was to discuss the U.S. Defense Department’s “past and future role related to humanitarian assistance and regional support,” a State Department official said ahead of the talks.

President Donald Trump and senior aides have not ruled out military action in the crisis-stricken South American country, repeatedly saying that “all options are on the table.”

But Washington has made clear it prefers to exert continued economic and diplomatic pressure to push Maduro out, and many experts have said the U.S. use of military force is unlikely.

(LaVenezuelaDelSiglo21) Venezuela for Dummies – 2019: Maduro The Usurper

(LaVenezuelaDelSiglo21)

I know these days we have much news to take of The Brexit, Trump and the wall (again), and always the Kardashians are doing something we want to know better. Also, you’ve heard about Venezuela (again). Venezuela has two presidents; yes, two presidents. It is like Game of Thrones, there is one legitime president, and one sit on the iron throne, the usurper.

It sounds complicated; it is complicated. Then, I only ask you to read and read a lot before you can have an opinion. This crisis has over twenty years. It is not a war between poor and rich people. It is dictatorship, violence, immigration, and thousands of people dying. If you want to understand better the crisis, you can read these articles:

Venezuela for Dummies – Part I

Venezuela for Dummies – Part II

Venezuela for Dummies – Part III

Two keys to understanding the battle of the two presidents

1.    It is not a coup d’etat.

I will repeat: it is not a coup d’etat. You can watch the moment Juan Guaidó sworn as Interim President of Venezuela. The place was full of people who sworn with him. Venezuelans are happy because this guy is the new president. There is no military presence in Guaidó’s actions.

The truth is Nicolas Maduro has never won an election even worse, according to the Constitution he should not have run in the first elections because he was the Interim President in 2013 and it was illegal. Nicolas Madura said he won in 2013 and 2018. A lie.

All the democratic powers are in Maduro’s hands: military, electoral and judicial. He only lost the Congress, and as an answer, he tried to eliminate, and later he invented a parallel Assembly.

In January, our legally elect National Assembly chose a new president of this institution. This guy named Juan Gaidó became the president of the Congress; he read our Constitution deeply and determined that according to the article 223 the illegal election of 2018 made Nicolas Maduro’s government illegal. The National Assembly does not recognize Maduro. Then, Guaidó as president of National Assembly assumed the executive power. It is legal. You can research our Constitution.

Also, if you want my opinion, we could have done this action years ago, but only Guaidó has the idea.

2.    It is not the US interventionism.

I don’t like Donald Trump nor Marco Rubio nor Republican party as much as you do. But, I have to admit that their help is invaluable. You have an idealized idea about democracy because you have lived and grew up in a place where democracy works, but when the democracy dies, and the power is all in one place, the citizens are prisoners.

It is too easy to say “Why you don’t protest?” We did. We have protested for eighteen years. We have lost hundreds of Venezuelans in these protests; they were murdered because they went to express their dissatisfaction, and thousands have been arrested, and they became political prisoners; they’ve tortured. Only the last week (January 21 and January 26) there are almost 30 murders and 300 political prisoners (one of then a 14-year-girl). Think in all these mothers who lost their kids because they went to protest.

You can ask “Why don’t they vote?” Because it is a farce. We do not trust our electoral institution; any results they gave is a lie.

We need help; we need help from other countries. We need somebody who stands with us and gives us the tools to wake up of this nightmare. Trump administration is helping. Do you know the US is the biggest buyer of Venezuela’s oil? The US government recognize Guaidó as president. Then, they will start paying our money to Guaidó instead of Maduro.

I like this simile: if you see your neighbors hurting their kids, you will call the police; won’t you? Because even though it is not your house, you want to help those kids. Here is the same.

I only ask you don’t judge this situation just because you hate Trump. It is the first time he is helping somebody else. And if you are worried about interventionism, please check to whet Cuba, Russia, and China are doing with Venezuela.

Venezuelan crisis is not over. I don’t know if we can have a change with Juan Guaidó. Maybe, it does not work, but I can say Venezuelans want to live in freedom. We are not going to stop until we get it.

(DN) Venezuela: General da aviação revela-se contra Nicolás Maduro

(DN) Caracas, 12 mai 2019 (Lusa) – O general de divisão da Força Aérea Venezuelana, Ramón Rangel, declarou hoje desobediência ao regime do Presidente Nicolás Maduro, e instou os venezuelanos a lutarem contra a “influência castro-comunista” no país.

“Não mais castro-comunismo para a Venezuela, temos que ser livres, soberanos, retomar a nossa soberania. Chegou a hora de nos levantarmos e lutar contra o castro-comunismo”, afirma num vídeo divulgado através do Youtube.

Ramon Rángel foi um dos militares que em 1992 participou na frustrada intentona golpista contra o então presidente Carlos Andrés Pérez (falecido, foi Presidente entre 1989 e 1993 e entre 1974 e 1979) liderado pelo falecido líder socialista Hugo Chávez (foi Presidente entre 1999 e 2013).

“É inconcebível que mais de quatro milhões de venezuelanos peçam esmola fora do país (…). Temos que afastar o medo e sair às ruas para protestar, para buscar a união militar e para mudar este sistema político”, afirma.

No vídeo, o militar diz atuar segundo a constituição venezuelana e apela às Forças Armadas Bolivarianas da Venezuela para que se “apeguem ao artigo 328” da Constituição, que afirma que os cidadãos “não devem ser servis a uma pessoa ou parcialidade política”.

“Não continuemos dizendo leais sempre, traidores nunca, porque estamos sendo traidores à Constituição Nacional”, afirma o militar.

Por outro lado, explica que durante vários anos, a pedido de Hugo Chávez, esteve em Havana como encarregado de negócios e insistiu que “o povo cubano está submetido a uma ditadura” desde há mais de sessenta anos.

“Ao estar em Cuba, eu estava a ser servil, não apenas a uma parcialidade política, mas ao castro-comunismo que nos levou (na Venezuela) ao que hoje em dia temos como resultado da união entre Cuba e Venezuela”, disse.

A presidente da ONG Organização Controlo Cidadão para a Segurança e Defesa das Forças Armadas, Rocío San Miguel, já reagiu à declaração do general Ramón Rangel contra Nicolás Maduro, afirmando que o militar é conhecedor do relacionamento entre Caracas e Havana.

“O significado do pronunciamento do general de divisão Ramón Rangel é muito importante. Ele conhece a trama de negócios Caracas-Havana. Os segredos do tratamento da doença e morte de Chávez em Cuba e do rumo que está a tomar o chavismo militar na sua rotura com (Nicolás) Maduro”, escreveu na sua conta do Twitter.

Desde janeiro último que vários militares se têm manifestado contra o Governo do Presidente Nicolás Maduro e manifestado apoio ao Presidente do parlamento, o opositor Juan Guaidó.

A crise política na Venezuela agravou-se em 23 de janeiro, quando Juan Guaidó, jurou assumir as funções de presidente interino e prometeu formar um Governo de transição e organizar eleições livres.

Guaidó, de 35 anos, contou de imediato com o apoio de mais de 50 países, incluindo os EUA e a maioria dos países da União Europeia, entre os quais Portugal, que o reconheceram como presidente interino encarregado de organizar eleições livres e transparentes.

Na madrugada de 30 de abril, um grupo de militares manifestou apoio a Juan Guaidó, que pediu à população para sair à rua e exigir uma mudança de regime.

Nicolás Maduro, 56 anos, no poder desde 2013, denunciou a iniciativa do presidente do parlamento como uma tentativa de golpe de Estado liderada pelos Estados Unidos.

À crise política na Venezuela soma-se uma grave crise económica e social, que já levou mais de 2,3 milhões de pessoas a fugirem do país desde 2015, de acordo com dados da ONU.

(OBS) Ação militar “cirúrgica” para retirar Maduro da Venezuela está a ser preparada

(OBS)

Há cerca de uma semana que o Departamento de Estado dos EUA, a OEA e a oposição exilada estão a preparar uma operação de extração que se pretende ser “limpa e curta, como a de Bin Laden”.Partilhe

Há cerca de uma semana que o Departamento de Estado dos EUA, a Organização do Estados Americanos (OEA) e membros exilados da oposição ao governo venezuelano estão a preparar uma operação de extração de Nicolás Maduro que se pretende ser “limpa e curta, como a de Osama Bin Laden“, noticia este sábado o El Español.

Poucos dias após a libertação do opositor Leopoldo López da prisão domiciliária em que se encontrava, o jornal espanhol teve acesso a um documento secreto que esquematiza o plano em preparação — um processo em que a OEA, liderada pelo uruguaio Luis Almagro, um feroz opositor de Hugo Chávez e Nicolás Maduro, está a ter um papel fundamental. Outra figura-chave é Miguel Angél Martín Tortabú, um dos representantes do Supremo Tribunal venezuelano que estão em exílio. Com a colaboração do Departamento de Estado dos EUA, o plano está a ser preparado, com a consciência de que “a ditadura não sairá voluntariamente”.

“Com a saída de Maduro, ou a sua detenção — isto é, a saída pelo próprio pé ou com algemas — a caminho de um exílio ou uma prisão no estrangeiro, o processo é inexorável e estamos a prepará-lo há cerca de uma semana”, disse uma fonte envolvida no processo ao El Español. “A operação de extração, se for necessária, será como a de Osama Bin Laden, limpa e curta — há apenas três ou quatro pessoas que têm de ser detidas”.

O líder da oposição a Nicolás Maduro na Venezuela deu uma entrevista à RTP na qual fez depender a hipótese de uma ação militar na Venezuela que resolva o impasse no país do apoio de aliados internacionais. Juan Guaidó, que é reconhecido por mais de 50 países (mas não por Nicolás Maduro) como presidente interino da Venezuela, afirmou à estação pública portuguesa que uma intervenção externa no país acontecerá mediante dois pressupostos: “quando os aliados estiverem dispostos a dar esse tipo de ajuda” e sendo “a última opção — ou a única — que reste aos venezuelanos”.

(MoscowTimes) Putin Is Ready to Give Up Venezuela for the Right Price

(MoscowTimes) Sergei Lavrov and Mike Pompeo will soon meet in Helsinki to discuss Venezuela’s future.

Bruno KellyReuters

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are heading towards a contentious meeting in Finland (their first since the Helsinki summit last year) with the crisis in Venezuela crowding out almost all other items on the agenda.

Last week, Russia and Cuba may have thwarted a U.S. backed plot to engineer a peaceful transfer of power from Nicolas Maduro to a transitional government led by interim president Juan Guaido and Venezuela’s top officials, including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno.

Secretary Pompeo accused Moscow of dissuading Maduro from leaving the country (allegedly he was assured of safe passage to Guatemala) when his plane was already on the tarmac. Moscow furiously denied the charges when Pompeo phoned Lavrov on May 1 to protest.

On May 3, U.S. President Donald Trump called Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to flag American concerns over Russia’s “disruptive role” in Venezuela and stress his country’s determination to ensure Venezuela’s return to democratic rule.

But, as common in his personal interactions with Putin, Trump quickly lost the initiative, allowing the discussion on Venezuela to drift towards the softer subject of humanitarian aid.

Putin expressed Russia’s displeasure with U.S interference in Venezuela while convincing Trump that he “was not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela”.

Despite Trump’s going “full Helsinki” on his phone chat with Putin, the U.S.-Russia geopolitical stand-off in Venezuela now threatens to derail the few remaining cooperative lanes in the relationship. White House national security advisor John Bolton made it clear on May 1: “This is our hemisphere — it’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering”.

Three weeks ago, the same point, in even more forceful terms, was privately made by Fiona Hill, NSC Senior Director for Europe, Russia and Eurasia during her visit to Moscow.

The Kremlin was struck by Hill’s prioritization of Venezuela as the most important issue in the relationship due to its direct impact on U.S. politics and the 2020 presidential race in Florida. Moscow concluded then it found an issue it could use to force the U.S. to grant concession elsewhere, most notably in Ukraine.

Russia believes that the risk of a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela is low (despite secret meetings at the Pentagon), since Trump does not want to get stuck in another unpopular war. But politically Trump is so heavily invested in a “win” in Venezuela that he has all but drawn himself an untenable red line with prospects of a major loss of face, while his strategy there is just “winging it”. Moscow may be undervaluing Trump’s ability to turn on a dime, but still thinks it finally has leverage.

Russia’s support for Maduro is driven by financial and energy interests, as well as by the Kremlin’s vision of a multi-polar world order, where Russia should block U.S. attempts at regime change in sovereign states friendly to Moscow. But the Russian leadership practices a transactional approach to international affairs in line with Russia’s hierarchy, where core Russian interests trump goals of less importance.

Bolton’s invocation of the Monroe Doctrine and his “spheres of influence framing” makes Moscow believe that, if done on an equal basis, a similar right should be recognized for Russia in Ukraine and other parts of the “near abroad”.

For Moscow, a deal of equals on Venezuela where Russia helps the U.S. diffuse the crisis by engineering a constitutional transition, should involve an equally significant concession by the U.S. (on a par with JFK-Khrushchev deal to remove nuclear missiles from Cuba and Turkey) to pressure Kiev into fully implementing the Minsk-2 agreements that would truncate Ukraine’s sovereignty and allow Moscow to retain some degree of control over Kiev’s security policies.

Putin specifically mentioned that during his call with Trump. Withdrawing Russian military support for Maduro should also be matched by the withdrawal of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.

So far Moscow has been frustrated by American refusal to engage in such bargaining of equals through the U.S. initiated bilateral high-level channel of communication on Venezuela (which Moscow assumed it was intended for). The first meeting between Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov and U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams in mid-March ended in the U.S. presenting no bargains and simply repeating its demands Russia ends its support for Maduro.

Sending two Russian military planes to Caracas days after the meeting in Rome was Moscow signaling its position if America wasn’t ready to take them seriously going forward.

Trust between Moscow and Washington is currently non-existent. No side could be sure that even if a deal was reached, the other side would implement its end of the bargain. The meeting between Lavrov and Pompeo may prove to be as bitter as the one held by Hill if neither side signals their willingness to negotiate. Or it might be the wrong format altogether, actual deals might require a secret channel or a one-on-one presidential sit-down.

Moscow, however, knows that the events of last week do not augur well for Maduro’s long-term rule. The Venezuelan military is sitting on the fence and its leaders are mulling their options.

The deal offered to them by the opposition (not just amnesty, but a retention of their power in the transitional government) is more serious than anything discussed before. Moscow does not have control over Venezuela’s military the way it had in Syria, where pro-Assad officers knew they and their families would be slaughtered if they lost the war. Nor are there foreign expeditionary forces of non-Russian provenance supplied and funded by an allied power (Iran) to do the heaviest fighting.

Moscow is ready to sell its stake in Maduro, but it is still unclear whether Washington is ready to offer the right price.

(OBS) Trump admite abertura económica a Cuba se a ilha retirar apoio a Maduro

(OBS) A Casa Branca acusa Cuba de ter cerca de 25 mil cubanos infiltrados na Venezuela e admite uma abertura económica se a ilha retirar o seu apoio a Maduro, caso contrário reforçará o bloqueio económico.Partilhe

Os EUA endurecerão a sua posição contra a ilha “se não deixarem a Venezuela”

O Presidente dos Estados Unidos, Donald Trump, admitiu na quarta-feira uma abertura económica a Cuba se a ilha retirar o seu apoio ao Presidente venezuelano Nicolás Maduro, caso contrário reforçará o bloqueio económico.

“Com o movimento certo, Cuba poderia sair-se muito bem, poderíamos fazer uma abertura”, disse Trump, em entrevista ao canal de televisão Fox Business, na qual reiterou, uma vez mais, que os EUA endurecerão a sua posição contra a ilha “se não deixarem a Venezuela”.

Na terça-feira, Trump ameaçou, no Twitter, que “se as tropas e milícias cubanas não CESSAREM imediatamente as suas operações militares e de outro tipo, com o objetivo de provocar morte e destruição à Constituição da Venezuela, será imposto à ilha de Cuba um embargo completo, juntamente com sanções do maior nível”.

A Casa Branca acusa Cuba de ter cerca de 25 mil cubanos da sua Defesa infiltrados na Venezuela, algo que a ilha nega, acusando Washington de “mentir descaradamente”.

Na quarta-feira, o secretário de Estado norte-americano, Mike Pompeo, disse que uma “ação militar” é “possível”, se for “necessária” para favorecer a transição política na Venezuela.

(ABC) La traición de Padrino, la causa de que Maduro siga en el poder

(ABC) El ministro de Defensa de Venezuela está en el punto de mira de EE.UU. tras haber pactado con la oposición al régimen chavista la huida del dictador a Cuba y cambiar de opinión a última hora

La crisis en la que permanece Venezuela tiene un actor principal llamado Nicolás Maduro. Pero también un secundario, clave en todos los procesos que se han producido en los cinco años en Venezuela, su ministro de Defensa, Vladimir Padrino. Su poder es de tal grado que ayer su nombre estuvo en boca de la primera fila diplomática de Estados Unidos, su secretario de Estado, Mike Pompeo, y el asesor de Seguridad de Trump, John Bolton. Ambos coincidieron en señalarle como uno de los elementos clave para derrotar a Nicolás Maduro y confirmaron que el ministro estaba de acuerdo en que el dictador huyese en avión ayer por la mañana a La Habana. Además de su nombre dieron los del presidente del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia de Venezuela, Maikel Moreno, y el comandante de la Guardia de Honor Presidencial, Iván Rafael Hernández, que junto a Padrino habían comunicado a la oposición que «Maduro debe irse», y les pidió actuar para que así fuese, aseguraba Bolton. La seguridad era tal en la Casa Blanca que hasta sabían que un avión esperaba en el aeropuerto de Caracas para el traslado.

Pero Vladimir Padrino acabó echándose atrás. El ministro de Defensa, en el cargo desde 2014 después de haber sido jefe de Estado Mayor del Ejército durante el gobierno de Hugo Chávez rompió el acuerdo con Estados Unidos en el último momento. Su mano logró que la gran mayoría de los generales que conforman la jerarquía militar venezolana permaneciesen sus cuarteles y no saliesen a las calles a respaldar al presidente encargado Juan Guaidó y el líder opositor liberado Leopoldo López. Lo hizo con la fuerza de ser quien da las órdenes. Con tal fuerza que fue el primer miembro del Gobierno bolivariano en asegurar que su Ejército no dudaría en “utilizar la fuerza” para reprimir el movimiento contra Maduro protagonizado por Guaidó y López.. “Si hay que usar las armas para defender estos principios las usaremos (…) andan buscando derramamiento de sangre en las calles de Caracas”.

La decidida intervención de Padrino apuntala de momento el poder de Nicolás Maduro. Lo hace pese a las sanciones que los gobiernos de Estados Unidos y Canadá, así como la Unión Europea, han ejecutado contra sus bienes. Padrino tiene todos sus bienes y cuentas bancarias en esos países intervenidos. Situación que no impide que parte de su familia, su hijo Mitchell y su hija Yarazetd, vivan en España, disfrutando y gastando miles de euros en los clubes más selectos de la capital como sólo los descendientes de los dictadores saben hacer.

(BBG) There Is No Coup in Venezuela

(BBG) The uprising in Caracas is an attempt to restore the government’s legitimacy, not overthrow it.

Not what it looks like.
Not what it looks like. Photographer: Yuri Cortez/AFP

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.R

It’s unclear what will unfold in Venezuela now that interim president Juan Guaido has called for the military and citizens to take to the streets. What is clear, however, is that this is not a coup.

You wouldn’t know this from the early news coverage. “Trump Aides Back Unfolding Venezuela Coup Attempt,” reads a typical headline in Politico. CNN blared “Coup in Venezuela” in its chyron (it has amended its website to call it an “uprising”). The headlines match the messaging of Nicolas Maduro’s regime. As the country’s information minister tweeted, the event is a small group of traitors attempting a coup.

All of this is wrong, for a few reasons. To start, the dissatisfaction in Venezuela appears to rise to higher levels than the government cares to admit. For example: On Tuesday morning, according to one source close to Guaido’s interim government, the soldiers that were standing guard at the home of Leopoldo Lopez told him he was free to go. The former opposition leader had been under house arrest since July 2017.

Related: A Coup in Venezuela? That Word Is Best Avoided in This Situation

Lopez endured one of Venezuela’s worst prisons. Maduro made sure to make an example of him. The soldiers who let Lopez go free were defying one of Maduro’s most important orders.

U.S. and Venezuelan interim government officials have also said that in recent months there have been back-channel communications between Guaido’s team and military leaders. The planning for the Tuesday’s uprising has been underway for months.

In public Guaido has pressed the National Assembly to adopt measures offering amnesty for military officers who have not engaged in violent crimes. Privately, the opposition and military have managed to subvert the Maduro regime’s blocking of electronic communications — by delivering messages by hand and arranging face-to-face meetings. That is one reason Guaido was able to address the country on Tuesday morning from an air force base without being harmed or captured.

Guaido himself, actually, is the other main reason the rebellion in Venezuela is not a coup: The interim president, who is recognized by the U.S. and dozens of other nations, has democratic legitimacy. Maduro is responsible for this turn of events. In May 2018, Maduro won a so-called election that no serious outside observer found to be free or fair. His second term began on Jan. 10, which is when Venezuela’s Supreme Court in exile ruled that Maduro had exceeded his authority by staying in power after his legitimate term in office.

The bottom line is that, after Jan. 10, a sequence of events began that ended with Guaido invoking a provision of the Venezuelan constitution that makes the leader of the National Assembly interim president when the presidency is vacated.

Compare Guaido’s respect for the rule of law to Maduro’s. Since the opposition won a majority in the National Assembly in 2015, Maduro has delegitimized that institution, replacing it with an emergency body that was initially created to change the constitution. Maduro has also packed the courts, arrested his opponents and assumed more power. All the while, he has put his country in hock to loans from China and Russia, while allowing Cuba to staff the top levels of his security and intelligence services.

Guaido and his supporters are now trying to save their country from Maduro’s misrule. If the military does indeed defect this week, forcing Maduro to leave, Guaido has pledged to quickly prepare Venezuela for real elections. That’s not an anti-democratic coup. It’s a democratic rescue mission.

(ZH) Venezuela Leaders Confirm Active Coup Attempt In The Country

(ZH)

Multiple reports say a military coup attempt is ongoing Tuesday morning in Venezuela as an anti-Guaido militia loyal to opposition leader and US-backed Juan Guaidó tries to establish military control of key points across the capital of Caracas and other major cities. 

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez confirmed via social media the government is in the midst of putting down what’s being described as a “small coup” by military “traitors”working with the right-wing opposition. File photo of Venezuela soldier in Caracas, via AFP

The AP has confirmed ongoing clashes between coup supporters and police inside Caracas, including reports of tear gas being fired, moments after Guaido issued statements in a video calling for a military uprising. Guaido was shown in the video accompanied by detained activist Leopoldo Lopez and surrounded by well-armed soldiers. 

Crucially, Lopez said he was liberated from captivity where Maduro had put him under house arrest for leading opposition unrest in 2014, and in the video called on all Venezuelans to peacefully take to streets.

Juan Guaidó@jguaido

En el marco de nuestra constitución. Y por el cese definitivo de la usurpación. https://www.pscp.tv/w/b5gQ9TUwMjc4NDN8MXJteFBlakJydlhLTlWvemxFNY_71g4QomAN12W3ykWFevDO_7lCRAawcIAW …19.4K10:46 AM – Apr 30, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacyJuan Guaido @jguaidoEn el marco de nuestra constitución. Y por el cese definitivo de la usurpación.pscp.tv20.5K people are talking about this

The AP described the video which apparently sparked the subsequent anti-Maduro action in Caracas:

In the three-minute video shot early Tuesday, Guaido said soldiers who took to the streets would be acting to protect Venezuela’s constitution. He made the comments a day before a planned anti-government rally. 

“The moment is now,” he said, as his political mentor Lopez and several heavily armed soldiers backed by a single armored vehicle looked on.

“Everyone should come to the streets, in peace,” Lopez said further. The past months have seen multiple failed attempts to generate some kind of mass military and civilian uprising against Maduro, but so far all attempts have failed to generate any significant momentum, size, or staying power.

Embedded video

BNL NEWS@BreakingNLive

BREAKING NEWS: Interim President of Venezuela Juan Guaido has started a military coup against Maduro. Heavily armed military forces are in various locations across the capital and other major cities 58211:49 AM – Apr 30, 2019462 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

So far Venezuela authorities have confirmed only coming up against a handful of armed militia members, which suggests Tuesday morning’s anti-Maduro action will likely be short-lived. 

(Reuters) Exclusive: Blackwater founder’s latest sales pitch – mercenaries for Venezuela

(Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Erik Prince – the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater and a prominent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump – has been pushing a plan to deploy a private army to help topple Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicholas Maduro, four sources with knowledge of the effort told Reuters.

Over the last several months, the sources said, Prince has sought investment and political support for such an operation from influential Trump supporters and wealthy Venezuelan exiles. In private meetings in the United States and Europe, Prince sketched out a plan to field up to 5,000 soldiers-for-hire on behalf of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, according to two sources with direct knowledge of Prince’s pitch.

One source said Prince has conducted meetings about the issue as recently as mid-April.

White House National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis declined to comment when asked whether Prince had proposed his plan to the government and whether it would be considered. A person familiar with the administration’s thinking said the White House would not support such a plan.

Venezuela opposition officials have not discussed security operations with Prince, said Guaido spokesman Edward Rodriguez, who did not answer additional questions from Reuters. The Maduro government did not respond to a request for comment.

Some U.S. and Venezuelan security experts, told of the plan by Reuters, called it politically far-fetched and potentially dangerous because it could set off a civil war. A Venezuelan exile close to the opposition agreed but said private contractors might prove useful, in the event Maduro’s government collapses, by providing security for a new administration in the aftermath.

A spokesman for Prince, Marc Cohen, said this month that Prince “has no plans to operate or implement an operation in Venezuela” and declined to answer further questions.

Lital Leshem – the director of investor relations at Prince’s private equity firm, Frontier Resource Group – earlier confirmed Prince’s interest in Venezuela security operations.

“He does have a solution for Venezuela, just as he has a solution for many other places,” she said, declining to elaborate on his proposal.

The two sources with direct knowledge of Prince’s pitch said it calls for starting with intelligence operations and later deploying 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers-for-hire from Colombia and other Latin American nations to conduct combat and stabilization operations.

‘DYNAMIC EVENT’

For Prince, the unlikely gambit represents the latest effort in a long campaign to privatize warfare. The wealthy son of an auto-parts tycoon has fielded private security contractors in conflict zones from Central Asia to Africa to the Middle East.

One of Prince’s key arguments, one source said, is that Venezuela needs what Prince calls a “dynamic event” to break the stalemate that has existed since January, when Guaido – the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly – declared Maduro’s 2018 re-election illegitimate and invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency.

Maduro has denounced Guaido, who has been backed by most western nations, as a U.S. puppet who is seeking to foment a coup. Key government institutions – including the military – have not shifted their loyalty to Guaido despite increasing international pressure from sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies.

Guaido has stressed that he wants a peaceful resolution, and Latin American governments recognizing his authority have urged against outside military action. Senior U.S. officials, without ruling out armed intervention, have also emphasized economic and diplomatic measures to pressure Maduro.

CLOSE TIES TO TRUMP

Prince was a pioneer in private military contracting during the Iraq war, when the U.S. government hired Blackwater primarily to provide security for State Department operations there.

In 2007, Blackwater employees shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians at Nisour Square in Baghdad, sparking international outrage. One of the Blackwater employees involved was convicted of murder in December and three others have been convicted of manslaughter.Slideshow (2 Images)

Prince renamed the Blackwater security company and sold it in 2010, but he recently opened a company called Blackwater USA, which sells ammunition, silencers and knives. Over the past two years, he has led an unsuccessful campaign to convince the Trump administration to replace U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan with security contractors.

Since 2014, Prince has run the Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group, which has close ties to the state-owned Chinese investment company CITIC and helps Chinese firms operating in Africa with security, aviation and logistics services.

Prince donated $100,000 to a political action committee that supported Trump’s election. His sister, Betsy DeVos, is the administration’s education secretary.

Prince’s role in Trump’s campaign was highlighted in the report by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, released this month, on alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The report outlined how Prince financed an effort to authenticate purported Hillary Clinton emails and how in 2016 he met in the Seychelles islands, off east Africa, with a wealthy Russian financial official on behalf of Trump’s presidential transition team.

Prince spokesman Cohen declined to comment on the Mueller report.

TARGETING FROZEN ASSETS

The two sources with direct knowledge of Prince’s Venezuela plan said he is seeking $40 million from private investors. He also aims to get funding from the billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets that have been seized by governments around the world imposing sanctions on the OPEC nation, a major oil exporter.

It’s unclear, however, how the Venezuelan opposition could legally access those assets. Prince told people in pitch meetings, the sources said, that he believes that Guaido has the authority to form his own military force because he has been recognized internationally as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

Prince envisions a force made up of “Peruvians, Ecuadoreans, Colombians, Spanish speakers,” one of the sources said, adding that Prince argued that such soldiers would be more politically palatable than American contractors.

(BBC) Venezuela crisis: Day off as fresh power cuts shut down services

(BBC)

A dark skyline in Caracas
Image captionLights went out and mobile phone and television services were disrupted in Caracas

Venezuela’s government has told workers and students to stay at home as the country faces a second day without electricity.

Hospitals, public transport, water and other services have been affected.

The capital, Caracas, was first plunged into darkness on Monday. Power was restored four hours later, before a second blackout struck.

A days-long nationwide power cut earlier this month prompted looting and desperation in parts of the country.

President Nicolás Maduro’s government blames the power cuts on an “attack” by the opposition, led by Juan Guaidó.

The opposition cites two decades of underinvestment and corruption by the socialist government as the cause of the power outage.

“Nothing is working,” Yendresca Munoz, a 34-year-old bank analyst living in Caracas told Reuters news agency. “During blackout days you can’t do anything at all. There’s no internet, no access to cash.”

Other big cities, including Barquisimeto, Maracaibo in the west of the country, have also been reportedly affected.

On Twitter, Mr Guaidó said: “When our people need certainty in the middle of another unsettling blackout, how can they go on repeating excuses of an ‘electricity war’ and sabotage?”

Since January, the opposition leader has been locked in a power struggle with Mr Maduro’s government, which is grappling with a severe economic crisis.

Last week, Mr Guaidó’s chief of staff was arrested on terrorism charges in another escalation of the political crisis.

What happened?

Power first went down in Caracas around 13:20 (17:20 GMT) on Monday, causing chaos in the city’s public transport system as the metro shut down and many thousands of people had to stream home on foot or by bus.

A crowded bus in Caracas with a huge queue outside
Image captionThe metro closure in Caracas forced people to take crowded buses

Electricity was restored about four hours later but cut out again at 21:50, Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez was quoted as saying by Efe news agency.

He had gone on state TV earlier to repeat the now-familiar assertion that opposition sabotage rather than a lack of maintenance had caused the afternoon blackout, saying hackers had attacked computers at the country’s main hydroelectric dam.

The minister boasted that the first power cut had been fixed in “record time”. Since the second outage, power has still not been restored.

Because of the problems with the power supply, TV viewers could only see a garbled picture when Mr Rodríguez went live on air, a correspondent for the UK’s Guardian newspaper tweeted from Caracas.Skip Twitter post by @tomphillipsin

Embedded video

Tom Phillips@tomphillipsin

Venezuela’s information minister is doing a live broadcaster to nation to denounce the opposition but because of blackout it looks like this4129:25 PM – Mar 25, 2019279 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacyReport

End of Twitter post by @tomphillipsin

Meanwhile, Brazil’s mines and energy minister Bento Albuquerque said that since 7 March, Venezuela has failed to fulfil its contract to supply electricity to the northern Brazilian state of Roraima.

He said Brazil was working to start building a transmission line to connect Roraima to the rest of the Brazilian power grid in the second half of the year for completion in 2021, so that it was not reliant on Venezuela.

He added that Brazil would also seek public contracts for renewable energy, such as wind and solar, as another alternative to Venezuela’s supply.