Trump threat­ens Venezuela with ‘eco­nomic ac­tions’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

US Pres­i­dent Donald Trump threat­ened Venezuela with swift “eco­nomic ac­tions” on Mon­day if its leader pushes on with an un­pop­u­lar bid to change his coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion amid mount­ing con­dem­na­tion. The warn­ing came as Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion coali­tion called a na­tion­wide strike for Thurs­day to kick off a “fi­nal of­fen­sive” aimed at forc­ing Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro from of­fice through early elec­tions.

Maduro, Trump said in a state­ment, was “a bad leader who dreams of be­com­ing a dic­ta­tor”. “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crum­bles,” he said. Trump did not spec­ify what mea­sures could be taken. But the warn­ing dra­mat­i­cally raised the stakes and scope of the long po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cri­sis that has been bat­ter­ing Venezuela.

Nearly 100 peo­ple have died since April, when street protests against Maduro turned vi­o­lent. Trump’s stance ex­plic­itly sided with Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion, which ac­cuses Maduro of try­ing to ac­cu­mu­late dic­ta­to­rial pow­ers to hang on to the reins. It risked fu­el­ing Maduro’s fre­quent al­le­ga­tions that he was the vic­tim of a plot by a col­lud­ing right-wing op­po­si­tion and the “im­pe­ri­al­ist” United States. There was no im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion from the Venezue­lan pres­i­dent.

Sep­a­rately, Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos was in Cuba - a close ally of Venezuela - on Mon­day for meet­ings with Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro. Colom­bian For­eign Min­is­ter Maria An­gela Hol­guin said the Venezue­lan cri­sis was dis­cussed, but she de­nied re­ports that San­tos trav­eled to con­vince Cas­tro to act as a me­di­a­tor.

Na­tion­wide strike

Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion coali­tion has called a na­tion­wide, 24-hour strike for Thurs­day to add pres­sure to Maduro fol­low­ing an un­of­fi­cial week­end vote it held that re­jected the leader’s plan. That plan, which Maduro has shown no sign of de­vi­at­ing from, en­tails a cit­i­zens’ body-called a “Con­stituent As­sem­bly”-be­ing elected on July 30 to redo the con­sti­tu­tion.

Maduro says that path is the only way to se­cure peace and eco­nomic re­cov­ery in Venezuela. His gov­ern­ment has dis­missed the op­po­si­tion vote against it as il­le­gal. But Trump said that, “if the Maduro regime im­poses its Con­stituent As­sem­bly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift eco­nomic ac­tions.”

Venezuela, with the largest proven oil re­serves in the world, is al­most en­tirely re­liant on its crude ex­ports. The United States im­ports around 270 mil­lion bar­rels of oil a year from Venezuela, ac­cord­ing to the US gov­ern­ment’s En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion — a vol­ume in de­cline by about a third com­pared to a decade ago.

‘Fi­nal of­fen­sive’

Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion is in­tent on a “fi­nal of­fen­sive” ul­ti­mately aimed at top­pling Maduro through early elec­tions. On Sun­day, more than a third of Venezuela’s 19 mil­lion vot­ers took part in the op­po­si­tion bal­lot, giv­ing an over­whelm­ing re­jec­tion to the elec­tion of a Con­stituent As­sem­bly and back­ing a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion be­fore Maduro’s term ends in 2019. The poll was lauded by the Euro­pean Union, the United Na­tions, the US, Brazil and other coun­tries. How­ever Maduro, backed by a loyal mil­i­tary, has up to now shrugged off the op­po­si­tion tac­tics and the in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism lev­eled at him. De­spite grow­ing pub­lic anger at food and medicine short­ages un­der a spi­ralling eco­nomic cri­sis that has swelled the op­po­si­tion move­ment, au­thor­i­ties in Cara­cas por­tray the ef­forts against them as il­le­git­i­mate and fo­mented by the US.

‘De­mand for po­lit­i­cal change’

One leader in the op­po­si­tion coali­tion, Freddy Gue­vara, said the strike this week was a “mech­a­nism for pres­sure and to pre­pare for the de­fin­i­tive es­ca­la­tion to take place next week.” A to­tal of 7.6 mil­lion Venezue­lans turned out for Sun­day’s vote, at home and abroad, the op­po­si­tion said.

That fig­ure-though dis­puted by the gov­ern­ment-was more than a third of Venezuela’s to­tal 19 mil­lion vot­ers, un­der­min­ing le­git­i­macy for Maduro’s fu­ture Con­stituent As­sem­bly. Brazil’s for­eign min­istry said in a state­ment “the high turnout in the plebiscite... was an un­mis­tak­able sign the Venezue­lan peo­ple want democ­racy quickly re­stored.”

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst John Mag­daleno told AFP that “there is ev­i­dence of a per­sis­tent and durable de­mand for po­lit­i­cal change.” Ac­cord­ing to the op­po­si­tion, the fi­nal turnout fig­ure was enough to over­turn Maduro’s man­date should there be a re­call ref­er­en­dum, be­cause it ex­ceeded the 7.5 mil­lion votes that put the pres­i­dent in power in 2013. To lend weight to the vote, a group of for­mer Latin Amer­i­can pres­i­dents, in­clud­ing Mex­ico’s Vi­cente Fox, who was de­clared “per­sona non grata” by the gov­ern­ment, took part as ob­servers. — AFP

CARA­CAS: Op­po­si­tion ac­tivists block an av­enue dur­ing a protest. — AFP

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