Monday, July 31, 2017

White House Afraid the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly Might Actually Work

The Trump administration is ratcheting up sanctions on Venezuela, designating president Nicolas Maduro. According to Bloomberg:
The Trump administration is imposing sanctions directly on Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro after the vote Sunday that was a step toward rewriting his country’s constitution.

In an unusual move against a foreign leader, the Treasury Department’s designation freezes any of Maduro’s assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prevents U.S. persons from dealing with him. The measures were announced in a statement on the Treasury’s website on Monday.

“Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”
Venezuela, a founding member of OPEC, has the world’s largest proven reserves and is South America’s largest oil exporter. It’s the third-largest supplier to the U.S. -- sending 10 percent of its imports last year -- and the top supplier to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, home of the largest cluster of refiners in the world.
Less than a week before Sunday’s vote, the U.S. sanctioned 13 senior Venezuela officials, including the interior minister and the national oil company’s vice president for finance, which sparked defiance and condemnation from Maduro. In February, it put Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami on a list of foreign nationals subject to economic sanctions because of suspected ties to the narcotics trade.
There was tension inside the White House in recent weeks about which additional measures to adopt, including a potential ban on oil imports, according to people familiar with the discussions. The debate reflected concerns over the potential impact on U.S. gasoline prices and over the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations.
While the National Security Council views limiting Venezuelan crude as a powerful weapon, the State Department has argued that cutting off a major piece of the country’s foreign trade could harm already suffering Venezuelans. There is significant sensitivity to the impact on Venezuelan people, one of the people said.
The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, the largest association of U.S. refiners, had urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other cabinet officials to exempt Venezuelan crude imports from a possible sanctions package.
Bets on a Venezuelan default are climbing. The implied probability of the country missing a payment over the next year has risen to 62 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on credit-default swaps. That’s the highest level since March 2016.
Investors’ bets reflect international concerns about the nation’s shaky political underpinning. The European Union “has grave doubts” about whether the election results can be recognized, spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Monday.
Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Panama issued statements saying they wouldn’t recognize Sunday’s vote, while U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said she would not accept an illegitimate government.
It seems unlikely that Venezuelan crude will be targeted given the pull of petroleum in Trump's White House. But if it is, it is essentially a declaration of war.

The domestic opposition didn't disrupt the Sunday's vote as promised. Even the incredibly and consistently anti-Chavez/Maduro NYT acknowledged:
The opposition made little headway in opposing the weekend of the vote. Leaders canceled a rally scheduled in the afternoon because of the clashes rocking the country. A demonstration on Friday, billed as a last stand against the vote, was poorly attended.
Instead, opposition members took to their social media accounts to drum up support.
“Today’s journey has been one of abstention and repression, with dead and wounded,” wrote Henrique Capriles [which the NYT basically repeated],  the opposition governor of the state of Miranda who narrowly lost to Mr. Maduro in 2013’s presidential election and was banned this year from running again. “A monumental failure!”
The focus of many voters in Caracas seemed to be on food, not politics. Venezuela remains in an economic tailspin, causing severe shortages of food and medicine.
“When the opposition got the National Assembly they said there would be food, and now it’s even worse,” said Juan Carlos Hern├índez, 43, a government employee who said he supported Mr. Maduro.
“The first thing I’m asking of the constitutional assembly is that they start putting out food,” he said, “because if they don’t, the people are going to get angry.”
I suppose the fear that is prompting Washington's hostile response is found in the quote above from the government employee. What if the constituent assembly actually does the trick and pulls Venezuela back from the brink? It would be a compelling statement for direct democracy. Even if one concedes the mainstream media's dismissal of the constituent assembly as nothing more than Socialist Party goons, you can't argue with results like more food and better policing. According to a story in The Independent:
The winners among the 5,500 ruling-party candidates running for 545 seats in the constituent assembly will have the task of rewriting the country's constitution and will have powers above and beyond other state institutions, including the opposition-controlled congress.
Mr Maduro made clear in a televised address on Saturday that he intends to use the assembly not just to rewrite the country's charter, but to govern without limitation.
The propaganda belching out of organs of the prestige press asserts, without any proof other than statements from the opposition, that participation in the informal July 16 anti-assembly referendum was robust; then it follows up, also without any proof, with a statement that turnout was poor for Sunday's vote. The Times article is a good example:
However, some polls leading up to Sunday’s voting showed that large majorities of Venezuelans did not think their country needed a new Constitution.
This month, Venezuelans issued a stinging rebuke to Mr. Maduro by turning out in droves during a symbolic vote held by the opposition. More than seven million votes were cast, opposition leaders said, with 98 percent against rewriting the Constitution.
Election officials said on Sunday night that eight million people cast ballots, which would represent more than 40 percent of eligible voters. But lines observed by reporters throughout the country on Sunday cast doubt on the figure. An independent estimate by the investment bank Torino Capital, based on a poll of voting centers, estimated that between 3.1 million and four million voters cast ballots. [This is a joke, right?]
One thing we can be sure of -- the more successful the constituent assembly, the greater the chance Washington will enhance its strategy of tension. Add another theater to the U.S. war cineplex.

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