Last night, United States President Barack Obama extended a declaration of national security emergency regarding Venezuela, granting the U.S. executive the power to counter the threat posed by the country by imposing sanctions on Venezuelan officials and seizing their property in the United States.
President Obama first declared Venezuela a national security threat in March of 2015, citing a number of transgressions against human rights and the rule of law by the Maduro regime, including:
… the Government of Venezuela’s erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to anti-government protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption…
The original 2015 declaration resulted in sanctions against seven Venezuelan government officials, including the heads at the time of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces, National Bolivarian Intelligence Service, and National Bolivarian Police. The sanctions banned the seven individuals from entering the Unites States, and froze their assets in the country.
This latest national security emergency extension by the United States comes at a time when the links between the Maduro regime and large-scale drug trafficking operations intensify. Nestor Reverol, the current Ministry of the Interior, Justice and Peace – arguably the most powerful cabinet position – has been indicted by a United States court for being involved in the drug trade. Moreover, Tarek El Aissami – who was named vice-president on January 4 – has been on the radar of U.S. authorities since at least 2015 for his suspected involvement in drug trafficking operations in the country.
Rodriguez Rejects Extension
Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez reacted to the news from the White House yesterday, calling the declaration an “aggression”. Rodriguez voiced her reaction through a series of tweets, which read:
This aggression committed once more by President Barack Obama is part of his legacy of hatred and of serious violations against international law.
Considering Venezuela a threat to the United States is grounded on imperial arrogance and irrationality that has characterized President Obama.
Cabello to Obama: “We’re a Threat”
For his part, PSUV vice-president Diosdado Cabello reacted to President Obama’s announced measure on Venezuela last night by stressing that Venezuela was in fact a threat to the United States only because the PSUV “wants peace”.
Cabello made the comments during a speech at an event related to the Zamora 200 military drills taking place in the country today. Cabello said:
We want to tell them [the United States] from right here that we are a threat because we want peace, because we are socialists, because we are revolutionaries, because we are chavista, because we want people to live in peace.
Amnesty International Calls Recent Arrests “Witch Hunt”
Amnesty International issued a statement today on the arrests of opposition politicians of the past week, including those of Gilber Caro, Roniel Farias, Jorge Gonzlez, Stacy Escalona and Irwin Roca. The statement called the detentions part of a “witch hunt” against political dissenters, and the accusations against those detained “absurd”.
The statement came from Erika-Guevara Rosas, the Director for Latin America at Amnesty International. Rosas said:
It seems like the government of President Maduro continues its witch hunt against anyone who dares to voice an opinion contrary to his policies. The reliance on absurd accusations of conspiracy to justify irregular detentions demonstrates a lack of commitment from Venezuela to promote and protect the basic human rights of everyone in the country.
Rosas continued by saying:
Instead of persecuting those who think differently, the Venezuelan government should focus its efforts on finding effective and fair solutions to overcome the serious humanitarian and human rights crisis that is affecting its people.
Trump Shows Interest in Lopez, Ledezma Case
President-Elect Donald Trump met with a panel of Latin American experts on Thursday in New York City, where he inquired about a number of regional topics, including human rights abuses in Venezuela and the cases of Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, two of the country’s most well-known political prisoners.
The meeting was attended by Julio Ligorria, former Guatemalan ambassador to the United States, as well as Latin American advisers Freddy Balsera, David Duckenfield and Carlos Gimenez.
He was very interested in getting our opinion about what is happening there, what will happen there and what has not happened yet.
Ligorria also said that Trump “placed emphasis on finding out” about former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma and Voluntad Popular leader Leopoldo Lopez, both of whom have been in detention since 2015 and 2014, respectively.
I was surprised by how direct he was in asking specifically about our opinions on what the situation in the ground is like there right now, and to find out about Ledezma and Lopez.
Below, an image of the president-elect with the Latin American experts taken around the time of the meeting:
Zamora 200 Drill Underway
In Caracas, the drill involved the military taking control of strategic positions around the country as part of a mock invasion of Venezuela. The drill was explained by Major General Jose Ornelas, the commander of the Capital Defense Region:
We will take all of the entrances into Caracas. There will be military presence on the highways, and we are going to secure all of the public institution [buildings] to defend them.
Below, some images of the drill.
[Minister of the Interior Nestor Reverol] Today on the Day of the Divina Pastora, we are here in the Integral Action Exercise Zamora 200 #ItsTimeToDefendTheHomeland
The images below appears to show a protest-suppression drill:
#NOW Simulation of conflict in the Jose Oil Complex. Exercise Zamora 200 #ItsTimeToDefendTheHomeland
#ItsTimeToDefendTheHomeland, Land, sea and air personnel equipment deployed for the Anti-Imperalist Exercise #Zamora 200
The video below filmed in Caracas shows military personnel listening to a song called “Patria Querida” (Beloved Homeland). The patriotic song was made popular by Hugo Chavez:
In civil-military union we conduct a great mobilization from the Honor Courtyard @GNB_AMGNB #ItsTimetoDefendTheHomeland @NicolasMaduro #GNB
Speaking on the drills in a televised address that aired this afternoon, Maduro said that the exercises would make Venezuela “impregnable” against any attack.
Maduro also said:
We’re making huge history here because the National Armed Forces are the most humanist of all humanity.
Maduro also reveled some information about Venezuela’s overall military strategy, saying:
We’ve been developing our own operational concepts within the framework of the prolonged popular war, [and] the concept of total war. What we’re doing is making practical all that is strategic, theory, the preparation and all of the weapons are ready to make our country untouchable to any imperial power or lackey that tries to attack our country militarily.
Archbishop to Congregation: “I feel pain over your lack of food”
The Archbishop of Barquisimeto, Monseigneur Antonio Lopez Castillo, spoke to his congregation at the start of the Marian procession for the Divina Pastora, a religious celebration that is recognized as one of the largest in the world of its kind.
Speaking to a crowd of faithful who had gathered to begin the procession this morning, Monseigneur Castillo said:
As a pastor I feel a great amount of pain because you do not have food or medicine, because children and the elderly are dying due to lack of medicine.
He also told the crowd that he would continue to voice his discontent at the state of affairs in Venezuela, saying:
The majority of our people do not believe in this failed socialist communism that has taken our country to misery. I will never be silenced. I will always speak for the good of the people.
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