Venezuelan Daily Brief

Published in association with The DVA Group and The Selinger Group, the Venezuelan Daily Brief provides bi-weekly summaries of key news items affecting bulk commodities and the general business environment in Venezuela.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

February 28, 2019

International Trade

Venezuela blocks off second bridge to Colombia: Venezuelan authorities have blockaded a second bridge to Colombia amid fresh skirmishes between protesters and security forces loyal to Nicolás Maduro. The move came as opposition leader Juan Guaidó travelled to Brazil to shore up international pressure on Maduro following an inconclusive meeting of regional leaders in Colombia earlier this week. Early on Wednesday, two shipping containers were positioned across the Simón Bolívar bridge, a major pedestrian crossing between the two countries, following days of sporadic violence. Footage broadcast on Colombian television on Wednesday showed a burned-out truck bed in front of the shipping containers, which had been positioned overnight across the Simón Bolívar bridge. Colombia closed four crossings from its side on Saturday evening, reopening them on Monday afternoon. (The Guardian:


Over 92% of border business remains shut: Daniel Aguilar, president of the FEDECÁMARAS nationwide business organization for the state of Táchira reports that over 92% of all business near to the border remains closed out of fear of pro-Maduro armed gangs. He held the Maduro regime to be “responsible for the clashed along the border”. More in Spanish: (Noticiero Venevisión,


Fire at La Guaira port hits warehouses holding CLAP food kits: A fire at the La Guaira port hit warehouses where CLAP food kits are stored for distribution by the Maduro regime. Maduro immediately orders the food to be replaced and blamed the fire on the “extreme right wing”. The fire had been reported to have been controlled More in Spanish: (Bolipuertos,; El Universal,


Oil & Energy

New Venezuela opposition CITGO Board meets, appoints new corporate officers: CITGO Petroleum Corporation has confirmed it’s newly appointed Board of Directors after the opposition-dominated National Assembly. The Board includes Luisa Palacios as Chairwoman, Rick Esser, Edgar Rincón, Angel Olmeta, Luis Urdaneta and Andres Eloy Padilla. "Together with CITGO senior leadership, the Board will work to guarantee the company's financial and operational stability; enhance its corporate governance; and protect its assets," CITGO reported. "CITGO is a historic brand that provides enormous value to the American economy and the communities in which it operates," said Luisa Palacios, newly appointed Chairwoman of the CITGO Board. "With highly complex refineries and, more importantly, best-in-class employees that keep this company running smoothly, CITGO is – and will remain – a major player in the energy industry. This Board will be working hard to provide the stability, leadership and protection that ensures it remains so."  Friday's meeting included an intensive review of the company's business units, which provided ample opportunity for the Board to interact with the internal management team. The meeting included an in-depth discussion of the company's finances, operations and immediate challenges so the Board can quickly develop and implement its vision going forward. (Latin American Herald Tribune,


CITGO loans price in potential regime change in Venezuela: The bank debt of oil refiner CITGO Petroleum Corp, US subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), has been volatile in recent days as Venezuela’s political crisis deepens and the market prices in a potential regime change in Venezuela. The company’s US$ 650 million term loan B jumped in secondary trading this week, according to a trader monitoring the debt, after the Houston-headquartered company last Friday installed a new board of directors that is expected to enhance CITGO’s independence from its troubled parent company. CITGO is also understood to be cutting ties with PDVSA in order to distance itself from sanctions on the country recently imposed by the US, Reuters reported on Tuesday. (Reuters,


Russian companies in Venezuela safe: Novak. Russian companies in Venezuela are not experiencing any problems resulting from the escalation in the political situation in the country and have not incurred any losses on the oil they produce there, Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak told news outlet in an interview. “Our companies present there [in Venezuela] are following the situation very closely. To date, we have no information about any problems or losses. Work is going as usual,” Novak said. ROSNEFT and GAZPROM are among the foreign companies still present in Venezuela. LUKOIL’s trading arm LITASCO, however, exited the country as soon as the United States imposed the latest round of sanctions against the Maduro government, targeting specifically state oil company PDVSA. (Oil Price:


Inside a U.S. businessman's oil deal with Venezuela: In November 2017, Harry Sargeant III, the former finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party, was looking to purchase a New Jersey asphalt plant that needed a steady supply of the heavy crude that Venezuela has in abundance. The trip got off to a worrying start when Sergeant’s plane was directed to a special hangar in Caracas and surrounded by soldiers. But what followed, he says, was privileged treatment, including an unexpected meeting the next day with Nicolas Maduro. Within a year, Sargeant had inked an attractive oilfield agreement to help raise plummeting crude production in Venezuela. A new Delaware company called EREPLA Services LLC, of which Sargeant is a shareholder, would rehabilitate three troubled oilfields in exchange for almost half the revenue. Weeks after news broke of Sargeant's partnership with PDVSA, the U.S. government unleashed tough new sanctions banning Americans from working with Venezuela's state-run oil firm. Sargeant acknowledges sanctions have derailed his deal. With Western oil majors steering clear of new investment there, the country has turned to China and Russia as well as upstart firms like EREPLA.  Sargeant insists it is not his concern who rules Venezuela. "Our business is with PDVSA, the institution," he said. "We are not into the politics of the situation." (NASDAQ:


Economy & Finance

Venezuela moves 8 tons of central bank gold: At least eight tons of gold were removed from Venezuela's central bank vaults last week, an opposition legislator and government sources say, in the latest sign of Nicolas Maduro's need to raise currency amid sanctions. The gold was removed in government vehicles between Wednesday and Friday last week when there were no regular security guards present at the bank, Legislator Angel Alvarado and the three government sources said. "They plan to sell it abroad illegally," Alvarado said. Alvarado and the government sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not say where the central bank was sending the gold. They said the operation took place while central bank head Calixto Ortega was abroad. There is reportedly only 140 tons of gold remaining in the vaults. In 2018, 23 tons of mined gold were transported from Venezuela to Istanbul by plane, according to sources and Turkish government data. (Reuters,


U.S. studying mysterious bond billionaire's Venezuela deals: The U.S. is considering sanctions against Wall Street billionaire David Martinez as part of its effort to topple Nicolas Maduro’s regime by cutting off its access to financing, according to three people familiar with the matter. Treasury Department officials have also discussed naming Martinez, the founder of the Delaware-domiciled hedge fund Fintech Advisory Inc., as a specially designated national for his business dealings with sanctioned Venezuelan officials including Finance Minister Simon Zerpa and Economy Vice President Tareck El Aissami, two of the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. Martinez visited Caracas as recently as December to pitch deals that would ease the government’s cash squeeze. (Bloomberg,


Politics and International Affairs

UN to vote on dueling US, Russia drafts on Venezuela: The UN Security Council will vote Thursday on two rival draft resolutions from the United States and Russia aimed at confronting the crisis in Venezuela, but both are expected to fail, according to diplomats. On Wednesday, the United States put forward a measure that would call for presidential elections to end the political standoff and unimpeded deliveries of aid to ease shortages of food and medicine in Venezuela. A competing Russian text urges a peaceful settlement of the crisis and recalls that aid deliveries to Venezuela require the consent of Maduro’s government. The council is set to vote around 9:30 am (1530 GMT) on both proposed measures. Russia and China, which support Maduro, are likely to veto the US draft resolution that “expresses deep concern about the actions of a regime that have caused an economic collapse,” diplomats said. But the Russian measure, which expresses “concern over the threats to use force” against Venezuela, is unlikely to garner the nine votes for adoption, according to diplomats. Resolutions at the Security Council, which are legally binding, must garner nine votes to be adopted, with no vetoes from the five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. The US-drafted text calls for “free, fair and credible presidential elections,” with the presence of international observers, describing the May vote in which Maduro was declared the winner as “neither free nor fair.” It expresses support for “the peaceful restoration of democracy and rule of law in Venezuela” and requests that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres broker a deal on holding fresh elections. Russia’s draft resolution urges a settlement “through peaceful means” and welcomes calls by Guterres for dialogue. Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia said the attempted aid delivery over the weekend was like an "illegal state border crossing" that amounted to a "forced feeding." US envoy Elliott Abrams, clearly angered, shot back saying: “I reject from start to finish, I reject from top to bottom, accusations of military interventions from a country that is occupying the territory of Georgia and Ukraine.” He said that the world should back Guaidó and “address the destabilizing results of Maduro’s corrupt, fraudulent and incompetent reign, which just this weekend brought instability and violence” to the borders of Brazil and Colombia. UN expert Richard Gowan said the United States is hoping to pile pressure on Caracas by showing that most council members back its stance, even if Russia and China block the measure. “The problem is what the US does next after this resolution fails. Does it keep trying to pile moral pressure on Maduro, or does it conclude the UN diplomatic route is dead?” At a council meeting on Tuesday, Abrams said his government was “deeply concerned” about Guaidó’s safety after Maduro said in an interview that the opposition leader would have to face justice when he returns from Colombia. (Arab News:; CNN:ó-presidential-duties/index.html; Daily Times:; Latin American Herald Tribune,; Bloomberg,


'Worthless' UN blasted for weak Venezuela response, playing into Maduro's hands: As the Venezuelan government burns aid convoys, represses its people and forces them to eat out of garbage trucks, critics say the United Nations is struggling to find its voice as it issues weak statements of condemnations, while a pro-Maduro coalition digs in at U.N. headquarters.  “[Secretary General Antonio Guterres] is playing right into #Maduro plans,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted this month. “Fake @UN 'negotiations' to divide opposition & buy time for protests to die down. Maduro will also want UN “experts” to blame #Venezuela crisis on sanctions.”  When it comes to democracy & human rights UN increasingly worthless,” he said. Rubio’s remarks represent part of a broader concern by conservatives that left-wing governments and institutions like the U.N. are downplaying the humanitarian crisis engulfing Venezuela due to its socialist ideology. In the U.S., politicians such as 2020 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders have come under fire for their alleged failure to call out the Maduro regime. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was criticized by Rubio specifically for repeated meetings with the Maduro regime’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, offering to help conduct a “serious negotiation to help the country out of the present standoff for the benefit of the people of Venezuela.” Guterres’ statements since then have been weaker than what many hope the international body would issue given such dire circumstances, a statement in which his office said he was following “with increasing concern the escalation of tensions in Venezuela.” On Sunday, Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet was somewhat stronger as she decried “disgraceful scenes.” “The Venezuelan government must stop its forces from using excessive force against unarmed protesters and ordinary citizens,” she said. While appeals to “both sides” are typical of U.N. officials -- who regularly seek neutrality as much as possible to be a neutral space for negotiation -- to those looking for a tougher line on the Maduro regime, the statement from Guterres is likely only to fuel their disappointment. Furthermore, far from being a neutral space for dialogue and negotiation, the U.N.’s New York headquarters is becoming something of a rallying point for pro-Maduro countries to give support to the failing regime. Arreaza, this month, announced the formation of a group that he said would defend the U.N. Charter, flanked by more than a dozen ambassadors and diplomats from countries including Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, China and Russia. (Fox News:


Guaidó meets with Brazil’s Bolsonaro, will re-enter Venezuela to his 'duties as president': Venezuelan leader Juan Guaidó is now facing the challenge of finding a way back into the country. "I will announce the day of our return, so that you can be with us," Guaidó said in a tweet to supporters Wednesday. He asked for demonstrations to continue. "We will decide. Due to security concerns we are not ruling out options," he'd said a day earlier in an interview. He declined to detail his return other than saying it would be a matter of days. Guaidó said he's aware of a possible attack against him from Nicolas Maduro's regime, but said "that won't stop us." The opposition leader said efforts to collect more aid will continue "because the humanitarian crisis" persists. Guaidó met Friday with Colombian President Ivan Duque and colleagues from Chile and Paraguay, and participated Monday in a Group of Lima nations meeting in Colombia, Guaidó was due to arrive in Brazil on Wednesday night to meet with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as part of a tour of several nations to ratchet up international pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to step down. Guaidó will travel to Brasilia for a two-day visit from Bogota. “The interim president of Venezuela will meet on Thursday afternoon with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at the Planalto Palace,” said Maria Teresa Belandria, appointed by Guaidó as his ambassador to Brazil and recognized as such by the Bolsonaro government. After the meeting on 2 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Thursday, Guaidó will hold a news conference, the envoy said. While in the Brazilian capital, Guaidó will also meet with diplomats of other countries that have recognized him as Venezuela’s interim leader, pending new presidential elections, Belandria said. Guaidó said leaving Venezuela took many hours and included a walking stretch. The regime´s Supreme Court, which is aligned with Maduro, has ordered Guaidó not to travel internationally. Guaidó said his interim leadership intends to call new elections about nine months after the usurpation of power by Maduro ends. Guaidó told CNN he believes there's a chance he could be arrested upon his return. But an attack on him, Guaidó said, could backfire for the current administration. "Venezuela is mobilized towards change and arresting someone (does) not calm the protest. On the contrary, it speeds it up and makes it grow." The National Assembly met this week in Caracas and authorized Cuaidó to travel for over 5 days, as required by the Venezuelan Constitution. (UPI:ó-planning-to-re-enter-Venezuela-after-attempt-to-pick-up-aid/8321551291066/; CNN:ó-presidential-duties/index.html; Reuters:ó/venezuelas-Guaidó-to-visit-brazil-in-bid-to-keep-pressure-on-maduro-idUSKCN1QG34U; Latin American Herald Tribune,;; Reuters,ós-return-to-venezuela-to-mark-brazen-defiance-of-maduro-idUSL1N20M012; Bloomberg,ó-s-safety-at-risk-in-return-to-venezuela-u-s-envoy-warns); and more in Spanish: El Universal,


Nicolas Maduro's says said he'd be open to a summit with Donald Trump: In his first interview with an American television network in years, Maduro said interim president Juan Guaidó: “can come and go. He will have to face justice, and justice prohibited him from leaving the country. I will respect the laws … No one can be above the law. In this case, Mr. Guaidó must answer before the Justice, not before Nicolas Maduro”. He also said: “The extremist government of the Ku Klux Klan that that directs Donald Trump wants a wants a war for oil.” But added “I think that at one point, President Trump will have to say "stop, stop, we must see what happens with Venezuela," and change his policy” … and “I, as President of Venezuela, am prepared for a direct dialogue with your government and with you to look for … 21st-century solutions, not Cold War solutions.” Adding; “I would be willing to go where ever I would have to go. To shake President Trump's hand”, making an open comparison with ongoing talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. (ABC News:


Maduro and Trump should meet to 'find common ground': Venezuela minister: Maduro’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that the United States was trying to overthrow the government of Nicolas Maduro and suggested talks with U.S. President Donald Trump - an idea the Trump administration immediately rejected. Jorge Arreaza, addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council, suggested that Maduro and Trump meet to “try to find common ground and explain their differences.” He also said his country had lost $30 billion in assets “confiscated” since November 2017 under sanctions. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence ruled out prospects of talks. “The only thing to discuss with Maduro at this point is the time and date for his departure,” Pence said on Twitter. “For democracy to return and for Venezuela to rebuild - Maduro must go,” Pence said. (Reuters,; Bloomberg,; AVN,


Diplomats storm out of UN meeting as Maduro's foreign minister: Dozens of European and Latin American diplomats abruptly walked out of the U.N.'s top human rights body on Wednesday to protest an address by Nicolas Maduro's foreign minister. Jorge Arreaza used his speech to float the idea of talks between President Nicolas Maduro and U.S. President Donald Trump - even as he blasted alleged U.S. 'aggression' against his country. He told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that the two leaders could seek 'common ground' over Venezuela's escalating crisis. More than 50 other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country's interim president, including Canada, the UK and Venezuela's neighbors Colombia and Brazil. Many of their diplomats stormed out of the room just as Arreaza arrived to speak to the 47-member council. Arreaza also said in his address that Venezuela had lost US$ 30 billion in assets 'confiscated' since Nov. 2017, including from the state oil company Citgo.  He then renewed an invitation to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to visit Venezuela to evaluate the impact of what he described as a US-led 'blockade'.  (Mail Online:


Venezuela's Guaidó says Russia not propping up Nicolas Maduro: Don’t blame the Russians for Nicolas Maduro’s perseverance in Venezuela. National Assembly president and opposition leader Juan Guaidó said he did not see any signs of “broad support” from Russia in propping up strongman Maduro, he told Russian daily Novaya Gazeta on Tuesday. “There have been no new loans, no major investments. Just public statements,” he said. “I do not see broad support for Maduro. I believe that there is respectful participation of Russia in regards to watching the fate of our country, but the same goes for other countries that are paying attention here,” he told the paper. Guaidó has gone on the record in the past saying that an eventual new government would honor its obligations to Russians. (FORBES:ó-says-russia-not-propping-up-nicolas-maduro/#61b942156b91; The Guardian:


Maduro regime’s vice president to fly into Moscow for talks on Friday: The Maduro regime’s Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Friday, the RIA news agency reported, the latest in a flurry of visits by Venezuelan politicians to staunch ally Russia. Rodriguez will talk to Lavrov about cooperating with Russia to prevent military action against Venezuela, RIA news agency said, citing the head of Venezuela’s foreign ministry Jorge Arreaza. “Our cooperation and the situation in Venezuela will be discussed, as well as coordination of actions to prevent any kind of war against Venezuela,” Arreaza was cited as saying. (Reuters,


Mexico’s President calls for dialogue to resolve Venezuelan crisis: Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called on Tuesday for dialogue to find a “peaceful solution” to the crisis in Venezuela and defended freedom of speech after a crew from the Univision network was briefly detained in the South American country while interviewing embattled leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro. “I respectfully call on the parties to the conflict to sit down, dialogue and seek a peaceful solution,” the founder and leader of the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) said in a press conference at the National Palace. If the parties request it, Lopez Obrador, popularly known as AMLO, offered to host talks in Mexico, allowing the two sides in the Venezuelan political crisis to find a solution, with the idea of having both Pope Francis and world-renowned diplomats as mediators. (Latin American Herald Tribune,


Colombia calls at U.N. for action on Venezuela crisis: Colombia called on Wednesday for action to end Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis and bring about a political transition leading to free elections. Francisco Barbosa Delgado, human rights counselor to Colombian President Ivan Duque, was addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council hours in Geneva before Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza was due to take the floor. “Action and solidarity should be based on full rejection of dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela,” Barbosa told the meeting. (Reuters,


Chile’s Piñera invites Guaidó to presidential Summit: Chilean President Sebastián Piñera confirmed he has invited Venezuela’s interim president Juan Guaidó to a presidential Summit scheduled for March, to establish a South American organization to replace UNASUR. Piñera had previously explicitly excluded the Maduro regime from the planned meeting. More in Spanish: (El Universal,ó-a-cumbre-presidencial-de-nuevo-bloque-regional)


Hundreds of Venezuela's military defect in four days as country spirals into further chaos: More than 450 Venezuelan soldiers have defected in just four days as the country plunges deeper into chaos. Soldiers who have sought refuge in Colombia since the weekend told the Associated Press that the catalyst for defection was the command from above to keep desperately needed humanitarian aid from their compatriots. Troops found themselves engaged in violent confrontations with their fellow Venezuelans. Many abandoned their posts and ran for their lives across the border into Colombia, which has become a refuge for the newly homeless, mostly low-ranking soldiers. Colombian immigration officials said on Tuesday that so far, more than 320 Venezuelan soldiers have defected since the weekend. The defections come as the Venezuelan opposition puts pressure on the military to recognize National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the nation's rightful president. (Fox News:


'Venezuelan blood is being spilled': tension flares near border with Brazil: Meanwhile, unrest continued near Venezuela’s eastern border with Brazil after violence that left at least three people dead and dozens injured over the weekend. On Tuesday morning, soldiers took control of an airport in the town of Santa Elena de Uairén, which was the focus of clashes between Venezuelan soldiers and indigenous protesters. Witnesses say they were attempting to travel to Maurak, where members of the Pémon indigenous community had captured 30 soldiers on Saturday. (The Guardian:


TELEMUNDO Reporter Daniel Garrido was abducted in Venezuela: TELEMUNDO’s Venezuela correspondent Daniel Garrido was abducted Tuesday at 6 a.m. local time on the streets near Hotel Cayena in Caracas, while he was reporting on Maduro’s government detaining and deporting the UNIVISION crew. “A group of unidentified armed men forced [Garrido] into a vehicle and covered his head with a hood,” according to a Telemundo statement. “After questioning him for six hours and seizing his equipment, the kidnappers freed him without explanation and without returning his equipment”, the U.S. Spanish language network reported. (Adweek:


Maduro regime's colectivos continue arbitrary armed robberies, journalist says: While embattled President Nicolas Maduro's administration claimed at the United Nations that colectivos, the government's armed paramilitary allies, are not the ones fomenting violence in Venezuela, a 37-year-old Swedish journalist testified to a different reality Wednesday at the National Assembly in Caracas. Annika H. Rothstein was forced to hide under the podium at the opposition's National Assembly after a group of Maduro supporters got through security and interrupted the meeting at the Venezuelan legislative palace. Rothstein was eventually able to stand up again to speak. Rothstein, who has written about anti-Semitism and is a contributor to Israel Hayom, The Jerusalem Post, Ricochet and the Washington Examiner, talked about how she has joined the long list of reporters who are working to cover the crisis in Venezuela under the constant threat of the colectivos. "I know the look of them," Rothstein told a Swedish colleague. "They show up in motorcycles. They cover their faces and they are armed." Her colleague published the video of their conversation on YouTube. She also said that over the years, colectivos have gone "from intimidation to robbery and kidnapping to death squad." Rothstein traveled from Caracas to Venezuela's border state of Táchira to cover the crisis this week and saw the armed colectivos. She said the drive is one of the most dangerous in the world -- especially at night. "It's no-man's land and there are kidnappings and random murders across this road," Rothstein said. She added that the colectivos stopped her driver and dragged her out of the car. She told her Swedish colleague she lied to the colectivos and told them she was a socialist and showed them press credentials from Iran and yet they still took her bulletproof vest and some still wanted to kill her.  "Two guys were crazier than the others and were obviously high on cocaine," Rothstein said. The colectivos kicked the drivers in the stomach and one slapped her in the face and hit her in the chest. She said they left bruises on her face and torso. They were all carrying semi-automatic rifles and 9 mm pistols on their hip, she said. She said she heard about a dozen colectivos arguing among themselves about whether to kill them. Although the group's leader told them that was a bad idea, the infighting continued, she said. The colectivos finally told them they could leave and fired their weapons as they ran back in the car, she said. They weren't wounded. Rothstein, who wrote about her experience for the Daily Beast, also reported she lost her equipment and about US$ 900 in cash. (Local10:


One witness, conflicting evidence: How Venezuelan justice targets the opposition: Local opposition leader Jose Rengel has spent almost five weeks in a cramped detention cell on the outskirts of Caracas, after a single witness accused him of leading a riot that burned down a public building. Rengel was arrested together with eight other men on January 24 after the witness - a member of the ruling Socialist Party - told soldiers that the 59-year-old had sacked shops and “completely destroyed” a public transport office using Molotov cocktails, according to a National Guard report filed one day later. The detained men, who are described by their families as opposition sympathizers, now face charges of arson, theft, and illegally carrying weapons, which could lead to 10-year jail sentences. The men all deny taking part in the protest, according to statements they gave to a court and their lawyers. (Reuters,


United States denies Russian accusations of planning military intervention in Venezuela: The United States has denied Russian accusations of planning military intervention in Venezuela, despite President Trump saying: "all options are on the table." The two countries exchanged opposing views at a UN Security Council meeting. Russia claimed the US was reinforcing its military and logistical muscle in Puerto Rico and neighboring Colombia. Nicolas Maduro’s Foreign Affairs minister, Jorge Arreaza, challenged the US and urged the UN to approve a resolution against the "use of force" in Venezuela. He was also defiant. (EURO News:


US is getting closer to military intervention in Venezuela: Gen. Anthony Tata: Brigadier Gen. Anthony Tata (Ret.) discussed the report that a top military official in Venezuela sent his family to China amid all the protests and why he believes that the U.S. may use military force in Venezuela.  I think in the next two weeks we are going to see this thing bubble up and foment,” he told FOX on Tuesday.  The aid has to get in there and importantly President Trump has made this sort of a line in the sand so he needs to do something that will affect, or he needs to set the conditions that will affect the transition to [Juan] Guaidó for power.” Tata added, “If [Nicolás Maduro's regime] choses to inject the Cuban-trained folks and others from Russia and Iran and Hezbollah, then I think that's a good call for the United States to get militarily involved." (Fox Business:


Trump says Venezuela aid 'getting through' despite Maduro refusal: President Trump said Thursday that U.S. aid supplies had gotten into Venezuela, despite the country's authoritarian leader publicly refusing to allow shipments. "We're sending supplies, supplies are getting through a little bit more. It's not easy," Trump said during a press conference in Vietnam after nuclear summit talks failed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It's unclear to what degree supplies have reached Venezuela. Although Trump claimed supplies had reached the country, he acknowledged the conflict and condemned Maduro. "Hard to believe somebody would say, 'Let's not do it.' What difference would it make, except it's great for his people to let it get through," Trump said. "But we're sending a lot of supplies down. People are starving to death. You would think the man in charge currently would let those get through. We're getting them into some of the cities and some of the areas that need them the most. It's very difficult, not an easy job." (The Washington Examiner:


Venezuela crisis: How much aid is getting in? The Venezuelan government has denied entry at its borders to hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid. But despite the recent stand-off, not all international assistance has been rejected. The Venezuelan government has praised Russia, an ally of president Nicolás Maduro, for sending aid and said 300 tons of it had been transported to Venezuela. But in response to questions from BBC News, the Venezuelan government provided no further details about the contents of the aid shipment and said there were currently no opportunities to film it. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked about the shipment in a daily press call on 21 February and replied that he didn't have any information but would make inquiries. However, the Pan-American Health Organization, which works with the World Health Organization (WHO) did release information about medical supplies sent by Russia. A shipment of 7.5 tons arrived on 21 February. A similar delivery was made in April 2018. The WHO oversaw the delivery of a total of 50 tons of medicines and supplies last year from foreign countries. The UN's Financial Tracking Service (FTS), which collates global data on humanitarian funding, recorded US$ 24 million for Venezuela in 2018. The agencies to have received the most money earmarked for Venezuela include the WHO, the United Nations Children's Fund and the Norwegian Refugee Council. And this includes about US$9 million raised through the UN's central emergency response fund for projects to improve nutrition, overseen by international agencies including UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the WHO. So far this year, another US$ 15 million has been donated, according to the UN database. The European Commission (EC) was the largest donor to organizations working inside Venezuela in 2018. It has been sending humanitarian aid to Venezuela since 2016. (


Democrats strain for a unified message on Venezuela: The Trump administration’s push to oust Nicolás Maduro as the president of Venezuela has split Democrats in Congress, rekindling a long running debate in the party about how aggressively the U.S. should intervene in other countries. Most Democrats, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have supported President Trump’s decision to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim leader. But a small group of lawmakers are skeptical of American efforts to remove Mr. Maduro. (The Wall Street Journal:


The following brief is a synthesis of the news as reported by a variety of media sources. As such, the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Duarte Vivas & Asociados and The Selinger Group.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

February 26, 2019

International Trade

Food and cleaning products have arrived at Margarita island’s El Guamache port

Port officials have announced that the CFS PANAVERA has arrived at Margarita island’s El Guamache port from Jamaica, carrying 53 containers, including 12 with food and 4 with personal care and health products. Cooking oil, rice, wheat flour, coffee, chocolate, pasta, peas, tomatoes, cosmetics and cleaning products are part of the arriving cargo. More in Spanish; (Bolipuertos,


Logistics & Transport

US flying more reconnaissance flights off Venezuela, military sources say

The US military has flown an increased number of reconnaissance flights in international airspace off the coast of Venezuela during the last several days to gather classified intelligence about the embattled regime of Nicolas Maduro, according to two US defense officials. The officials would not detail which US military aircraft are being used, but the Navy and Air Force maintain several large fixed-wing aircraft capable of intercepting communications and monitoring the status of weaponry. The officials noted that the effort is limited to whatever the aircraft can gather by staying in international airspace. Several US military officials continue to emphasize there are no military options actively being considered for the Venezuela crisis. For now, the US military would only contemplate a response if US assets, personnel or the embassy were attacked. The US Federal Aviation Administration has issued a warning to US pilots about flying into and out of Venezuela because of "continued political instability and increasing tensions." (CNN:


AVIOR halts flights to Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire

Venezuela’s AVIOR airline has indefinitely suspended all flights to and from the islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire, following an order from this country’s National Civil Aeronautics Institute barring all air traffic by order of the Maduro regime. More in Spanish; (Noticiero Venevisión,


Oil & Energy

Venezuela has US$ 500 million of crude sitting in ships — but nobody wants to buy it

Venezuela is running out of space to store its sanction-stained crude that few dare to buy, forcing it to reduce output at a time when the world is thirsty for heavy, sulfurous oil. Tankers holding 8.36 million barrels of Venezuelan crude worth upwards of a half-billion dollars are floating off the country’s coast as the nation struggles to find buyers for its oil following new U.S. sanctions in January. An armada of 16 ships holds cargoes belonging to state oil company PDVSA, CHEVRON, VALERO, and ROSNEFT, according to shipping reports and ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. Oil ventures owned by PDVSA with ROSNEFT, CHEVRON, TOTAL and EQUINOR, whose upgraders convert tar-like Venezuelan crude into oil that refineries can process, reduced rates this week because they ran out of space to store crude, according to people with knowledge of the situation. With few buyers willing to take PDVSA’s oil, the alternative was to put some of that oil onto tankers to clear space and continue to operate at lower rates. The backlog of ships and the growing difficulty in keeping its oil upgraders running underscore the impact U.S. sanctions are having on PDVSA. Shipments to America, once Venezuela’s largest customer, have dried up. Without access to the U.S. financial system, on which many refiners and trading houses rely on to finance purchases, PDVSA is having trouble finding buyers outside of countries such as India and China, to whom it owes oil in payment for past loans. The PDVSA-Rosneft joint-venture PETROMONAGAS upgrader isn’t processing oil after running out of space to store their production, a person with knowledge of the situation said. PDVSA-CHEVRON’s PETROPIAR venture has reduced output for the same reason, other people said. PETROCEDENO, a PDVSA-TOTAL-EQUINOR venture, is running out of oil to process as a ban on sales of heavy naphtha to PDVSA has made it difficult to ship the heavy oil through pipelines from inland fields to the upgrader, another person said. (FORTUNE:


Venezuela oil sanctions slash Brent crude premium

The U.S. sanctions on Venezuela from late last month cut off more heavy and sour crude oil supply to the global market, leading to the lowest premium of quality light sweet Brent over heavier and sour crude grades because of limited heavy oil supply worldwide. At times when supply of various crude grades is not distorted, Brent usually trades at a premium of US$ 3-$4 a barrel over Dubai, but since January, the premium of Brent over Dubai has been consistently below US$ 1 a barrel. To top off the sanctions on Iran and the OPEC cuts, the U.S. sanctions on Venezuela at the end of January further tightened the heavy crude market, and traders expect the market to tighten even more in the coming months. Despite initial expectations that the Venezuelan oil that would have gone to the U.S. could easily make way to Asia, the nature of the U.S. sanctions have effectively turned the U.S. import ban into financial sanctions applicable globally. In the middle of February, the April Brent premium to Dubai Exchange Futures for Swaps (EFS)—generally seen as the spot market sentiment of Brent-linked and Dubai-linked crude grades—fell to the lowest on record, since S&P Global Platts started publishing data about the spread in August 2011. (Oil Price:



Fishing halted on Venezuelan coast

In an unusual move, Venezuelan military are stopping fishermen from setting sail from docks in Vargas state near Caracas. More in Spanish: (El Universal,


Economy & Finance

National Assembly asks CITIGROUP for 90-day extension on gold foreclosure

Venezuela’s opposition led National Assembly has asked CITIGROUP for a 90-day extension before it forecloses on Venezuelan gold reserves held with the Bank of England as collateral on a US$ 1.1 billion debt. The request was made by the Assembly’s standing Finance Committee, headed by congressman Angel Alvarado, who said CITIGROUP is “willing to cooperate”. More in Spanish: (El Universal,


Evolving Venezuela sanctions pose problems for banks

Recently imposed sanctions on Venezuela have posed new compliance risks for U.S. and international financial institutions as they seek to untangle business ties between the two countries to meet evolving requirements. The Treasury Department has ramped up sanctions with more designations and guidance in recent weeks. Gradually increasing U.S. measures targeting the government of Venezuela, and the country’s state-owned oil giant have made banks more reluctant to touch accounts that might relate to Venezuela for fear of sanctions violations. The scenario is complex because of the economic and business connections between the two countries has a foundation in the oil-and-gas industry, which can affect automobile and heavy machinery manufacturing, as well as elements of insurance and finance. Intricacies stemming from the sanctions are particularly disruptive for the banking industry, said Daniel Gutierrez, who chairs the anti-money-laundering compliance committee at the Florida International Bankers Association. In the case of Venezuela, where the list of the Maduro government officials is broad and unclear, and where PDVSA has many subsidiaries and tends to outsource to third-party vendors, banks are finding they need to pull more resources to holistically analyze each instance on a case-by-case basis. If not carefully managed, banks could face penalties and reputational damage. (The Wall Street Journal:


Politics and International Affairs

UN Security Council to meet on Venezuela after deadly clashes

The UN Security Council is due to meet today to discuss Venezuela, following weekend violence over a failed opposition bid to bring in humanitarian aid. The United States requested the meeting to be held in open session this evening. The request came as US Vice President Mike Pence travelled to Colombia to meet opposition leader Juan Guaidó in a show of support for his bid to replace President Nicolás Maduro. The Security Council is divided over Venezuela. The U.S. and many Western and Latin American nations back opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president, while Russia, China and other countries support President Nicolas Maduro and oppose any interference in Venezuela's internal affairs. (RTE:; ABC News:


Lima Group asks International Criminal Court to provide assessment of Venezuela situation

The Lima Group on Monday asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to make an assessment of the situation in crisis-torn Venezuela, proposing that Venezuela's partners help organize "free elections" in the country. "We have decided to turn to the International Criminal Court with a request to take into account the grave humanitarian situation in Venezuela, the criminal violence of Nicolas Maduro's regime against civilians and the denial of access to international aid, which is a crime against humanity", the statement said. The Lima Group of 14 countries was created in 2017 and currently seeks to end the political crisis in Venezuela. The group includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Guyana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia. The majority of the organization's member states are backing Guaidó. (SPUTNIK:


Guaidó and Pence agree to tighten noose on Maduro, as Guaidó says he will return to Venezuela

US Vice President Mike Pence announced fresh US sanctions against allies of Nicolas Maduro on Monday, after meeting with Latin American leaders including Venezuela's interim president Juan Guaidó in Colombia. "The tragic events of this past weekend have only steeled the resolve of the United States of America to stand with you, to stand with freedom-loving people in Venezuela," Pence told Guaidó at the Lima group meeting in Colombia's capital Bogota. Pence also urged other Latin American countries to freeze the assets of PDVSA, Venezuela's state-owned oil company, and to restrict visas for officials close to Maduro. "Effective today, the United States will impose additional sanctions on regime officials, including three border state governors implicated in last weekend's violence and a member of Maduro's inner circle," he said, adding that the US stands with Guaidó "100 percent". Guaidó, who is recognized by most Western nations as Venezuela's legitimate leader, called on all foreign powers "to consider all options in ousting Maduro". "Just days ago, as the world watched, the tyrant in Caracas danced as his henchmen burned truckloads of food and medicine, and murdered civilians," Pence said, and added that the U.S. will stand by Guaidó until freedom is restored and promised tougher measures against this nation soon. "In the days ahead ... the United States will announce even stronger sanctions on the regime's corrupt financial networks," Pence said. "We will work with all of you to find every last dollar that they stole and work to return it to Venezuela." Pence also said the U.S. is sending another US$ 56 million to Venezuela's neighbors to help them cope with the influx of migrants from Venezuela. If Maduro remains in charge of Venezuela, Pence said he expects it will result in two million more refugees. The European Union on Sunday condemned the government's use of violence and armed civilians to block the aid entry, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "shocked and saddened" by the civilian deaths. During Monday's meeting, Guaidó, who was sitting next to Pence, asked for a moment of silence for those who were killed over the weekend. Guaidó warned that "indulging" Maduro "would be a threat to all of America," while Colombia President Ivan Duque called for "more powerful and effective" pressure on the socialist leader.  Pence reiterated that "all options are on the table" — a phrase that has been repeated by Trump administration officials since the U.S. recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela in January. Guaidó has adopted similar language and urged the Lima Group to consider "all options" in ousting Maduro. But both Guaidó and Trump administration officials have stopped of calling for U.S. troops on the ground. In a statement following Monday's meeting, the Lima Group demanded that the Maduro leave his post immediately and make way for a democratic transition that included free elections. Guaidó accused Maduro's government of turning the country into "the sanctuary of terrorists." Having defied a government travel ban to got to Colombia on Friday, Guaidó said he would return home "this week," with the Lima Group warning he faced "serious and credible threats" from the regime. Maduro has told ABC News that Guaidó must “face justice” if he decides to return because he had a Supreme Court order against leaving the country. (NPR:; Al Jazeera:; Reuters,ó-says-all-options-open-after-maduro-blocks-aid-idUSKCN1QC091;


US sanctions pro-Maduro governors who blocked international aid

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has designated four officials aligned with the illegitimate regime of former President Nicolas Maduro. This action, taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13692, targets the Governors of four Venezuelan states involved in endemic corruption and in blocking the delivery of critical humanitarian aid, thereby exacerbating the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by the illegitimate Maduro regime. “The illegitimate Maduro regime’s attempts to blockade international aid intended for the Venezuelan people are shameful. Treasury is targeting four state governors aligned with former President Maduro for standing in the way of severely needed humanitarian assistance and prolonging the suffering of the Venezuelan people,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The United States fully supports the efforts of Interim President Juan Guaidó to address the endemic corruption, human rights abuses, and violent repression that has become the hallmark of the illegitimate Maduro regime, and looks forward to the restoration of a democratically elected government for the people of Venezuela.” As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these individuals, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by these individuals, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons. (Latin American Herald Tribune,


Maduro extends deadline for US Embassy closure

On Saturday, Nicolás Maduro for a second time extended the deadline for shutting down the US Embassy in Caracas. US authorities say this extensión is now for 30 more days.  Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza claimed on Twitter that both countries had agreed to establish interest section offices in Caracas and Washington for migratory and bilateral affairs. More in Spanish: (Noticiero Venevisión,


Maduro responsible for safety of Colombian embassy staff: minister

Nicolas Maduro is responsible for the safety of Colombian diplomats in Venezuela, Colombia’s foreign minister said on Saturday, after Maduro formally broke off relations with Bogota. “Colombia holds the usurper Maduro responsible for any aggression or violation of the rights of Colombian officials in Venezuela,” Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said. Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, said in the same statement that Maduro, socialist, could not break relations with Colombia because he is not Venezuela’s legitimate president. (Reuters,


In Colombia, Pence lets Guaidó down easy on use of military force against Maduro

Vice President Mike Pence flew into Colombia on Monday as an anxious hemisphere waited to hear if the leader from America would back the Venezuelan opposition’s call to use “force” to bring humanitarian aid into the country. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who was barred from leaving Venezuela, had secretly crossed the border amid violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces for a special meeting Monday with Pence and regional leaders. What Pence ended up telling the young Venezuelan leader was not necessarily what he traveled so far to hear: Pence told Guaidó the Trump administration still believes in a peaceful resolution. “We got a long way to go,” Pence said he told him. “I made it clear to President Guaidó that we’re going to continue to call on allies to join with us. We’re going to continue to isolate Maduro economically and diplomatically until democracy is restored.” Many in the region breathed a sigh of relief after fearing that Pence was going to support the call for military action. Diplomats acknowledge that the strongest steps have already been taken and fear is growing that momentum against the government of Nicolas Maduro may be stalling. But governments that oppose using force say there are diplomatic options yet to be considered. One diplomat whose government opposes any kind of military option said there have been conversations with U.S. officials about forcing Venezuelan diplomats loyal to Maduro to choose between remaining in their countries or returning home. Pence said ultimately it would be up to Trump, in consultation with allies, to decide under what conditions a military option would be appropriate. Pence said Guaidó wanted to make sure that all options remained on the table. “I assured him that they were, but we hope for better,” Pence said. “We hope for a peaceful transition.” Using military force would be a drastic escalation, but José Cárdenas, who served in the National Security Council under George W. Bush and regularly speaks with Trump administration officials, said it needs to be discussed. “We can’t just walk away,” Cárdenas said. “In order to sustain the pressure, you have to keep one-upping what the government does.” (The Miami Herald:


US increasingly isolated as allies warn against use of military force

US vice-president Mike Pence has repeated a veiled threat of military intervention in Venezuela, but Washington appeared increasingly isolated in its willingness to contemplate using force to oust Nicolás Maduro. Both European powers and some of Donald Trump’s key Latin American allies – all of whom have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader – warned that they would oppose sending troops into the country. Guaidó had for weeks insisted his movement was focused on peaceful, democratic change. But after the opposition failed in a weekend bid to defy Caracas and bring aid into the country, he called on the international community to “keep all options open”. Speaking at an emergency summit of regional leaders in the Colombian capital Bogotá, Pence renewed the threat of intervention, describing Maduro as “a usurper”, and calling for a global push to oust him. “To leaders around the world: it’s time. There can be no bystanders in Venezuela’s struggle for freedom,” he said. “We hope for a peaceful transition to democracy, but as President Trump has made clear, all options are on the table.” But beyond the US, few appear willing embrace the prospect of violence.  Brazil’s vice-president, retired general Hamilton Mourão, said on Monday that under no circumstances would his country allow the United States to intervene militarily from Brazilian territory, even though the country’s rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro has previously vowed to do “everything for democracy to be re-established” in Venezuela. Colombian president Iván Duque has also now ruled out intervention, according to sources in his administration. Chile and Peru were also among other regional powers opposing military action on Monday. 'Let's hope that the pressure of the international community, dialogue and prudence will prevail,' said Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, who likened the crisis in Venezuela to what his country faced in the run up to the 1989 U.S. invasion to remove dictator Manuel Noriega. 'Although the circumstances are similar, we must have the capacity to find a solution different than the one used back then.' There was similar concern across the Atlantic, where European nations including Spain and Germany made clear they considered the deployment of troops a line that should not be crossed. Spain would 'roundly condemn' use of force in Venezuela: “Not every option is on the table,” the country’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, said in a blunt rebuke to supporters of intervention. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, insisted there could be no military solution to a political crisis. The Lima group also said credible threats have been made against the life of Venezuelan opposition leader Guaidó and his family, adding that Nicolas Maduro was responsible for Guaidó’s safety. “We want to hold the usurper Maduro responsible for any violent action against Guaidó, against his wife and against their relatives,” said Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, speaking on behalf of the group. (The Guardian:ó; Daily Mail:; Bloomberg,


Russia accuses U.S. of preparing military intervention in Venezuela

A top Russian security official on Tuesday accused the United States of deploying forces in Puerto Rico and Colombia in preparation for a military intervention in Venezuela to topple Moscow’s ally, President Nicolas Maduro.  “...The United States is preparing a military invasion of an independent state,” Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, was quoted as saying in an interview. “The transfer of American special operations forces to Puerto Rico, the landing of U.S. forces in Colombia and other facts indicate the Pentagon is reinforcing its troops in the region in order to use them in an operation to remove ... Maduro from power.” Patrushev said in the interview that Washington had asked Moscow for consultations on Venezuela and that Russia had agreed, but that U.S. officials had repeatedly postponed them under false pretexts. U.S. officials have previously dismissed Russian allegations about U.S. plans for Venezuela as baseless “propaganda.” (Reuters:


China says hopes world provides 'constructive' help to Venezuela

China hopes that the international community can provide “constructive” help to Venezuela based on respect for the country’s sovereignty, the foreign ministry said on Monday, after Venezuelan troops repelled foreign aid convoys. China hopes Venezuela can remain peaceful and calm, the Foreign Ministry said, and reiterated Beijing’s opposition to foreign interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs or the use of “so-called ‘humanitarian aid’ for political aims”. (Reuters,


Mexico President says committed to non-intervention on Venezuela

Mexico's president on Tuesday said he remained committed to a policy of non-intervention on Venezuela a day after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged Mexico to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's rightful president. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at his regular morning news conference urged all sides in Venezuela to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis and said the United Nations should be used to help resolve a dispute over humanitarian aid. (The New York Times:


Sanders warns against intervention in Venezuela, stops short of calling Maduro a 'dictator'

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday night steered clear of calling Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro a "dictator", despite criticizing Maduro's government for failing to hold democratic elections. "It's fair to say the last election was undemocratic, but there are still democratic operations taking place in that country," Sanders said after being asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer why he wouldn't use the term to describe Maduro. "What I am calling for right now is internationally supervised free elections."  Sanders was asked about his opposition to U.S. intervention in Venezuela. He responded by saying he believed there should be an “international humanitarian effort” to improve the lives of Venezuelans and expressed that their last election was “not free and fair.” (CNN:; FOX:


UN’s Michelle Bachelet condemned violence at Venezuela’s borders

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has condemned what she called the excessive use of force by Venezuelan security forces and pro-regime groups on the borders with Colombia and Brazil, causing at least 4 dead and over 300 wounded. She pointed to “deplorable scenes” and asked the Maduro regime to “stop using excessive force against unarmed protesters and ordinary citizens”. She asked the regime to stop pro-government groups involved in violent actions. More in Spanish: (Noticiero Venevisión,


European Union condemns Maduro regime’s use of “armed groups” to “intimidate civilians

The European Union has condemned violence in Venezuela and the Maduro regime’s use of “armed groups” to block the entrance of humanitarian aid. “We reject the use of irregular armed groups to intimidate civilians and legislators who seek to distribute aid”. More in Spanish: (El Universal,


Uncertainty at Colombia-Venezuela border bridge after clashes over aid

Dawn broke on Sunday at the Simon Bolivar bridge, the main border crossing point between Colombia and Venezuela, amid a tense and uncertain calm after a clash between Venezuelans – many of them shouting and calling for their country’s “freedom” – who were trying to bring humanitarian aid into their country and authorities taking orders from Caracas. There were sporadic clashes between hooded protesters and police, supported by armed civilian "colectivos" on Sunday on the Venezuelan side of the border. On the order of Colombian President Ivan Duque, the bridge linking the Colombian city of Cucuta with Venezuela’s San Antonio del Tachira was closed for two days while the damage resulting from the failed aid delivery attempt is evaluated. The area near the bridge was cordoned off and is being guarded by Colombian soldiers, police and some members of the ESMAD anti-riot squadron. In addition, the bridge is being blocked on the Venezuelan side by a tanker truck, with a number of masked men deployed in the area along the Tachira River on the Colombian side. Scores of Venezuelans who managed to slip across the border to get aid were trapped there as Venezuelan authorities closed it. (Latin American Herald Tribune,;


In Venezuela, bows and arrows against tanks, four people reported slain on Venezuela-Brazil border

Nicolas Maduro’s forces in Venezuela armed with tanks and live fire attacked an indigenous tribe armed only with bows and arrows when they tried to stop a convoy of humanitarian aid from Brazil. One woman from the Pemon tribe was killed and 15 were wounded, but the tribe took several soldiers, including three lieutenants and a sergeant captive. The battle took place in the remote Gran Sabana region near the Brazilian border. The Pemon were successful at stopping the anti-riot troops in their effort to block food and supplies from entering the country through Brazil near the village of Kumarakapay, about 50 miles north of the border. The soldiers tried to breach barricades set up by residents about 6 a.m., said Jorge Perez, mayor of the Gran Sabana municipality. Marcel Perez, a 30-year-old Pemon, said in an interview in Pacaraima, Brazil, that he and others had gathered at dawn for a peaceful protest to prevent the military from reaching the border. “We made a blockade, without any weapon but our traditional bows and arrows,” he said. “They had tanks, buses and a lot of soldiers. And, so they decided to shoot at us with live bullets.” Five armored vehicles passed by, spewing tear gas that set fire to a small shack, the mayor said. Those wounded more seriously were allowed to cross on ambulances into Brazil so they could be treated in the regional center of Boa Vista. Perez said he was beaten with sticks a few hours later by members of a pro-Maduro gang while taking other wounded people to a hospital in Santa Elena de Uairen, on the Venezuelan side. Police said Zoraida Rodriguez, 45, was killed and 15 people were wounded. A Venezuelan general was negotiating with the tribe for the return of three lieutenants and a sergeant captured by the indigenous forces. The Venezuelan Congress with its opposition majority reported on Saturday that by 4:00 pm, four people had been slain while more than 20 suffered bullet wounds on Venezuela’s border with Brazil. (WND:; Latin American Herald Tribune,; Reuters,


Attacked and powerless, Venezuela soldiers choose desertion

A high-stakes plan by the Venezuelan opposition to bring humanitarian aid into the country floundered Saturday when troops loyal to Maduro refused to let the trucks carrying food and medical supplies cross, but it did set off a wave of military defections unlike any seen yet amid the country's mounting crisis. Over 270 mostly low-ranking soldiers fled in a span of three days, Colombian immigration officials said Monday. In interviews with The Associated Press, nine National Guard soldiers described the day that they were ordered by commanders to stop the humanitarian aid from entering Venezuela. Fearful of being jailed, many complied with orders and admitted to launching tear gas at protesters. Two said they were part of a failed plot to get the aid in. All fled after making unplanned, split-second decisions with only the uniform on their backs. While interim president Juan Guaidó has proposed amnesty to military officers who back him, the low-ranking soldiers who have defected say breaking ranks with Maduro is all but impossible. Anyone who shows the slightest hint of disapproval risks arrest, they said, and jail has become increasingly synonymous with torture. Even those who wanted to see the aid brought in, followed orders to repress citizens. As Saturday grew increasingly tense, protesters threw rocks and gasoline bombs at him. One said he responded by throwing tear gas at them to protect himself. Others at the home also had evidence of the resistance they faced that day: Torres still had blood caked beneath the skin on his nose from protesters kicking him on the ground after he surrendered to Colombian authorities. A young woman had a scratch across her cheek that she said came from a rock thrown by protesters. During the clashes, armed pro-Maduro groups known as "colectivos" fired indiscriminately, and several of the soldiers said they feared being shot themselves. National Guard troops are equipped with crowd-control devices like rubber bullets and tear gas but do not carry any regular firearms. Many said they worry their wives and children will face repercussions and they are concerned about how they will make ends meet. Nearly all the defectors would support a foreign intervention in Venezuela and join in the fight. Floating ideas among each other, several of the defectors said they believe the best way forward is for more troops to desert and help form a resistance from abroad. Some envisioned an intervention led solely by Venezuelans, while others are convinced it can only be done with the help of an international coalition. All said they don't see themselves as traitors, but rather as troops intent on restoring Venezuela's democracy. (Fox News:


Venezuela ex-spy chief reveals Maduro’s ties to Hezbollah, drugs

Former head of Venezuela’s intelligence services General Hugo Carvajal revealed powerful ties between the administration of Nicolás Maduro and the Hezbollah terrorist group, as well as wide-spread corruption and drug activity, the New York Times reported on Thursday. The nefarious activities were directed by Maduro himself as well as Interior Minister Néstor Reverol and former vice-president Tareck El Aissami. Allegedly, those who were meant to combat drugs were engaged in trafficking them, Carvajal said. El Aissami was not only a drug kingpin, said Carvajal, but also had connections to Hezbollah, and attempted to arrange Hezbollah terrorists to work with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] through Venezuela. In a meeting that took place in 2009 Hezbollah terrorists met El Aissami and Carvajal in Syria and gave the two Venezuelan state representatives three assault rifles as gifts. The meeting involved Venezuelan diplomat Ghazi Nasr al-Din, who was stationed in Syria at the time.  Labeled “a Hezbollah supporter” by the department of Treasury, Nasr al-Din is wanted by the FBI. (The Jerusalem Post:


UNIVISION journalists freed after being detained at Venezuelan presidential palace

The UNIVISION network said six of its staffers, including veteran anchorman Jorge Ramos, were briefly detained at the presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday. Ramos and the crew members were released a little less than three hours after the episode began. Daniel Coronell, UNIVISION's president of news, tweeted that "Jorge Ramos and his team have been released and are on route to their hotel." In Caracas, the Venezuelan National Union of the Press Workers also confirmed that "the UNIVISION team has been freed." The network said Ramos was in Caracas to interview Nicolas Maduro. UNIVISION spokesman Jose Zamora said Maduro objected to Ramos' questions. "Very shortly into the interview, Maduro didn't like the line of questioning, and they stopped the interview," Zamora said. He said government aides confiscated the network's equipment. UNIVISION's news executives were able to find out what happened, he said, because "Jorge managed to call us." But "in the middle of the call, they took his phone away. UNIVISION is the leading Spanish-language television network in the United States, with millions of loyal viewers. The network immediately contacted the US State Department. Kimberly Breier, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted out, "We insist on their immediate release; the world is watching." After the team was released, UNIVISION broke into programming for a special report — with Ramos joining by phone. He said Maduro "got up from the interview after I showed him the videos of some young people eating out of a garbage truck." "They interrogated us. They put us in a security room. They turned off the lights," he said. Ramos called the episode a "violation." He said Maduro's aides still had the tapes. "They have stolen our work and are trying to keep what is happening from airing," he said. Pedro Ultreras, a member of the UNIVISION team in Venezuela, tweeted late Monday that immigration officials told the journalists that they will be expelled from Venezuela and must leave Tuesday morning. "The hotel we are staying in is surrounded by Venezuelan authorities, we cannot go outside," he said. Ramos, a veteran anchor born in Mexico, said he asked Maduro about the lack of democracy in Venezuela, the torture of political prisoners and the country’s humanitarian crisis. Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard also tweeted his government’s protest at the events. (CNN:; Reuters:


Maduro's right-hand man sends his two youngest children to China

Venezuela's second-most powerful man has sent his children to China amid the possibility Nicolás Maduro's government will crumble.  Diosdado Cabello, known to be the second most-powerful man in Venezuela behind President Nicolás Maduro, sent two of his three children to China. Airline boarding passes showed different names for Cabello's daughter, Daniella Cabello, and his youngest son, Tito Cabello, raising suspicions because his wife's surname - Contreras - was on the boarding passes. Both children boarded the Havana to Beijing flight as Desiree Contreras and Tito Contreras, apparently using their mother's surname to hide their identities. The siblings left Havana on Friday and made it to Moscow on Saturday before connecting to a Beijing-bound flight that touched down Sunday- Daniella Cabello, 22, boarded the plane with a US-issued passport as Desiree (her middle name) Contreras while his son Tito Cabello, 17, used a Ugandan passport and used the name Tito Contreras.  The reservation system indicates they're both scheduled to return to Havana on a one-stop flight March 12. In recent days, it has been reported that several Maduro loyalists successfully arranged to have their immediate family members flee what once was considered one of the most economically powerful countries in South America. (Daily Mail:


OP-ED: Dictator Maduro survived a tough week, but his problems are about to get worse

The conventional wisdom in some quarters is that Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro has proved in recent days that he’s in firm control of his military goons and that he will be able to stay in power indefinitely. The conventional wisdom may be wrong. Maduro’s problems will get worse. With or without a military intervention, his illegitimate regime is cornered, isolated and increasingly unsustainable. Maduro danced in public on Feb. 23, but that image is going to haunt him. First, Maduro’s international isolation will continue to grow. Interim president Juan Guaidó is reportedly planning to return to Venezuela. If he’s arrested by the Maduro regime, we may see even stiffer international sanctions. Second, the Maduro regime’s foreign income will dwindle in coming months, as U.S. and international sanctions kick in. Third, Maduro does not have a superpower that will be willing to support him an at any cost.  Fourth, it’s unclear for how much longer Venezuela’s armed forces will stand behind Maduro. Most of the uniformed Venezuelan soldiers who blocked humanitarian aid and fired on unarmed opposition volunteers at the Colombian-Venezuelan border on Feb. 23 were not members of the army or National Guard. They were part of Maduro’s paramilitary forces. Fifth, while no U.S. or international military intervention is likely anytime soon, there might be growing pressure for a United Nations intervention if Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis continues to deteriorate. Virtually all Latin American and European countries that support Guaidó — including Colombia and Brazil — said Monday that they won’t back a U.S. or international military intervention. But if Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis continues to worsen, that could change. Barring a miracle Maduro’s political future doesn’t look good. He will be under growing domestic and foreign pressure to agree to a political solution that will most likely include his departure. By Andres Oppenheimer (The Miami Herald:


OP-ED: What’s next for Venezuela?

Scenes of destruction and despair were on full display worldwide over the weekend as the Maduro regime used force to deny entry into Venezuela of desperately needed humanitarian assistance, leading to increasing speculation about what comes next. Or, rather, will the United States invade Venezuela to topple the despotic regime that has ruined Latin America’s once-wealthiest economy and created Latin America’s worst humanitarian crisis in many years. The threat of invasion has increasingly been implied, with senior U.S. administration officials suggesting routinely that “all options are on the table.” Indeed, they are, as they always are in the conduct of foreign affairs. But the implication is clearly that if Maduro and his inner circle refuse to depart, then the use of force may be employed. However, as bad as the situation continues to get in Venezuela an armed response is unlikely. First, there is no casus belli that would justify a U.S.-led invasion. Nor is there a mandate from the United Nations or OAS. The doctrine of Responsibility to Protect is not sufficiently developed or accepted at this point, and circumstances do not yet justify its application to Venezuela in any event. Latin American nations, including those that support strong actions against Maduro, have publicly indicated little support for armed intervention, and, despite the rhetoric, there does not appear to be much enthusiasm in Washington for such a step. What can be anticipated is that there will be further intensified pressure on the regime. In addition to efforts to entice regime officials, including the military, to shift their loyalty from Maduro to Guaidó, the United States, in coordination with other nations, looks to amplify asset seizure and forfeiture. Collectively, they aim to deny new and cancel existing visas for regime officials and their families and increase humanitarian assistance. All these activities will further the goal of turning Maduro into an international pariah, and, it is hoped, create conditions that will ultimately see him turfed from office. The key is to keep the Maduro regime on the defensive. There are no guarantees, and nobody can say when the dam will ultimately break—or if it will break. Meanwhile, Venezuelans face an unpleasant choice between protesting and exposing themselves to the excesses of the regime, hunkering down, or joining the millions of Venezuelans who have already left their nation behind. It is a tragedy lain squarely at the feet of Chavismo. By Eric Farnsworth. (The National Interest: