Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), called on the international community today to levy more sanctions against the Maduro regime, “each harsher than the last”, in order to force the president to engage in “serious negotiation” with the country’s political opposition.

Almagro, who has arguably been the loudest and most consistent critic of the Maduro regime for years, made the comments to the media today. He also said:

The diplomatic path forward is the path of sanctions, and I think that the sanctions must be each harsher than the last in order to allow the Venezuelan regime to structure and allow [the existence of] an electoral system that is clear, an electoral system that contains guarantees.

For Almagro, the clock has not yet run out on the possibility that the regime and the opposition can negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis. However, in order for the regime to seriously consider undertaking such negotiation, Almagro argued, the international community must continue to place sanctions against “regime figures and or [the regime’s] economic and financial apparatus”.

So far, three international entities have placed sanctions on the Maduro regime: Canada, the United States, and the European Union. Canada has blocked access to the country to dozens of regime officials, as has the United States. In addition, the United States has in place sanctions against the country’s financial system which make it difficult for the regime to conduct business abroad. Finally, the European Union has placed a ban on the export of weapons to Venezuela.

Almagro also spoke on the country’s electoral system, which he qualified as “practically uncontrollable”, suggesting that it would stop at nothing to ensure regime victories in elections. To support his argument, Almagro made specific reference to the widespread irregularities that marked the Constituent Assembly vote, including the fact that the company that provided the voting machines for the process issued a statement saying that the regime had falsified the results of the vote.

Vehicle Manufacturing Collapses 99% in 2017

The Camara Venezolana de Fabricantes de Autopartes [Venezuelan Chamber of Auto Part Makers] (FAVENPA) announced today that vehicle assemblies in the country fell 99% in 2017. The announcement was made by the president of the organization, Omar Bautista, who said that Venezuela only produced 2,000 vehicles last year.

According to Bautista, one of the biggest culprits for the collapse of the industry is the fact that SIDOR, a state-run steel company, has effectively stopped providing raw material to the industry, meeting just 4% of demand last year.

Once a giant of Venezuelan industry, SIDOR was nationalized in 2008 by Hugo Chavez, and has since descended ever deeper into decay. While the company produced 4.5 million tonnes of steel in 2007, it managed to pump out a meager 307,783 in 2016.

Bautista also blamed the industry’s demise on the fact that it was largely unsuccessful in receiving the dollars necessary for imports from the regime. He explained that the industry was only able to secure approximately $8 million from the official exchange system, a figure that was “much lower than what was required”.

Soldiers Complain Over Lack of Food, Disease

El Tiempo published an article today outlining the difficulties facing the soldiers of the 321 “G/D Pedro Zaraza” Caribe Battalion based in Barcelona, Anzoategui state. The article includes testimony from two soldiers who told the newspaper about the hellish condition that they face in the service.

One of the soldiers–whose name was changed in order to protect his identity–told the newspaper that he joined the unit in October of 2017. Since then, he claims to have lost 24 kilograms, having gone from 68 kilograms in October to 44 kilograms today. The soldier attributes his weight loss to “the hunger” that has gripped the unit’s barracks.

Another soldier told the newspaper that the amount of food that he receives on a daily basis has been decreasing, which he suspects is by design. He said:

When I got here, they told me that I was going to eat well and that’s what it was like during the first few days, almost to make one fall in love [with the army], but then the amount of food started decreasing.

The soldiers call their typical breakfast ostia, which consists of a small arepa and “one or half a sardine”. Other typical meals consist of “half a bowl of rice” with “a spoonful of chicken or a sardine”, one of the soldiers said.

A mother of one of the soldiers told El Tiempo that aside from the dire food situation, the battalion barracks are also infested with scabies and malaria. On the medial situation in the barracks, one of the soldiers said:

We also have lots of colleagues who have gotten sick with malaria. I had a fever for 15 days, but it wasn’t malaria. During that time, they took us to the hospital because there were no medicines or doctors at the battalion to treat us.

To make the horrendous living conditions worse, El Tiempo reports that the soldiers in the battalion have not been paid their salaries since October. A relative of one of the soldiers told the newspaper that her enlisted family member is supposed to receive a salary of Bs. 140,000 each month, which is approximately $1.10 at the black market rate.

Questions/Comments? E-mail me: invenezuelablog@gmail.com

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