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ZODIAC

  1. Within weeks of US sanctions, the vessels got new names and resumed transporting Venezuelan crude
  2. Representational image. Photo: FilePolio has been reported in Venezuela, a crisis-wracked country where the disease had been eradicated decades ago, the Pan-American Health Organisation reports.The organisation said the child had no history of...
  3. Mourners grieve next to the coffin of Jose Rivero ? one of the inmates who died during a riot and a fire in the cells of the General Command of the Carabobo Police ? during his funeral at the cemetery in Valencia, Venezuela, March 30, 2018....
  4. The Hyloscirtus japreria frog is a new species discovered in the remote Perija mountain range shared by Venezuela and Colombia. (La Salle Natural History Museum of Venezuela) Venezuelan and Colombian scientists have identified a new species of frog in the Perija mountain range shared by both countries that is home to unusual species like this small amphibian. With multi-colored skin and a distinctive song, the Hyloscirtus japreria was discovered during expeditions over the past decade living in rivers and cascades at altitudes above 1,000 meters (3,280 feet). It was named in honor of the Japreria, a disappearing indigenous ethnic group in the Perija in the northwestern Venezuelan state of Zulia. The frog?s discovery ? published in February in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Zootaxa ? brings to 37 the number of species identified as belonging to the Hyloscirtus genus. Small in size, the males measure between 2.8 and 3.2 centimeters (up to 1.25 inches) in length and the females from 3.5 to 3.9 centimeters. The journey that led to their discovery began in 2008. ?Several years went by before we found enough evidence that it was a new species,? biologist Fernando Rojas-Runjaic, the coordinator of the study, told AFP. Once they determined it was a ?stream frog, we had to verify that it wasn?t a Hyloscirtus platydactylus, another species found in the Perija in 1994,? he added, The scientists recorded the find with cameras and high-definition sound recorders to capture its distinctive coloring and analyze its song. The sounds emitted by the frog, which can be heard from 15 meters (yards) away, is one of its most distinctive characteristics, said expedition member Edwin Infante. The H. japreria is also characterized by a pale yellow dorsal area with tiny dark brown spots and small reddish brown smudges. It also has whitish stripes in certain parts of its eyes, ears, thighs and feet. The frog?s iris is grey with a slender black reticulation. Working with Rojas-Runjaic, of the Caracas-based La Salle Natural History Museum, were Colombian biologist Fabio Meza-Joya and Venezuelans Infante and Patricia Salerno. Reaching the frog?s habitats required expeditions of several days on foot and mule into the Perija mountains. Access to the mountain range from Colombia was restricted for decades because of a conflict with leftist guerrillas, ?which produced information vacuums,? said Meza-Joya, adding that a 2016 peace agreement with the main rebel group should open the way for new discoveries. ?It opened a window to go into areas that were inaccessible. With peace, knowledge about biodiversity increases,? he said. Meza-Joya stressed that amphibians are fundamental to ecosystems, acting as regulators of insect populations that can be vectors of disease. ?Some species show marked vulnerability to environmental change so they are considered excellent indicators of the health of ecosystems,? he said.
  5. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a document as he speaks during a meeting with ministers in Caracas, Venezuela. January 30, 2018. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS AUSTIN: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday raised the prospect that the Venezuelan military could decide to oust President Nicolas Maduro but said he did not know whether that would happen. In a speech at the University of Texas ahead of five-nation Latin America tour, Tillerson insisted the Trump administration was not advocating ?regime change? in Venezuela but said it would be ?easiest? if Maduro chose to leave power on his own. Tillerson predicted there would be change of some kind in Venezuela and said the US, which has had steadily worsening relations with the country?s Socialist government, wanted it to be a peaceful one. Maduro, whose approval ratings are low amid a collapsing economy, runaway inflation and rising malnutrition in the oil-producing country, is seeking re-election in a vote that must be held by the end of April. ?We have not advocated for regime change or removal of President Maduro. We have advocated that they return to the constitution,? Tillerson said when asked during a question-and-answer session whether the removal of Maduro was necessary or the US would play a role in it. However, he then suggested the possibility that internal forces might take action, though he offered no evidence the US had intelligence backing the notion that the military might turn against Maduro. ?In the history of Venezuela and in fact the history in other Latin America and South American countries, often times, it is the military that handles that,? Tillerson said. ?When things are so bad that the military leadership realizes that it just can?t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition,? he said. But he added that, ?Whether that will be the case here or not, I do not know.? The US and other Western governments accuse as Maduro?s government of violating political and human rights in Venezuela and have imposed economic sanctions. Critics at home say Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez in 2013, has wrecked the economy and skewed the election system to perpetuate power for his Socialist Party. Maduro?s government, which is allied with Cuba?s Communist leadership, says it is fighting a US-led right-wing conspiracy determined to end socialism in Latin America, hobble Venezuela?s economy, and steal its oil wealth. The Venezuelan government did not respond immediately to a request for comment. ?Maduro should get back to his constitution and follow it,? Tillerson said. ?And then, if he is not re-elected by the people, so be it.? ?Then, if the kitchen gets a little too hot for him, I am sure that he got some friends over in Cuba that could give him a nice hacienda on the beach and he could have a nice life over there.?
  6. Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hold placards that read "CNN, out of my country. For lying and manipulating" ? during a gathering to support Maduro?s government order of suspension of CNN's Spanish-language service ? outside the National Commission of Telecommunications (CONATEL), Caracas, Venezuela, February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello/Files CARACAS: Venezuela saw almost 70 newspapers, TV, and radio stations close in 2017 while attacks on journalists rose, the main union representing the media said Wednesday, accusing the socialist government of trying to "silence" the press. The National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) said 46 radio stations, three television channels, and around 20 newspapers had been shuttered in the past year. The union also recorded 498 attacks on journalists as well as 66 arrests. It ascribed this to efforts by the government of President Nicolas Maduro to "silence -- at whatever price -- the discontent about the ever-worsening economic and social situation," which includes hyperinflation and scarcities of basic goods such as food and medicine. The number of attacks on members of the press was up 26.5 percent on 2016, when 360 acts of aggression against media workers were recorded, the union said. Most of the attacks took place during deadly anti-government street protests between April and June, which left 125 people dead, according to the union, which said that around 70 percent of those deaths were at the hands of the police or armed forces. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued an "urgent call" this year for the resumption of broadcasts by radio and TV stations that had been taken off the air. Maduro and his aides have denounced local and international media for what they term a "smear campaign" and "war-time propaganda" aimed at the government. Broadcasters have been forced to close down after their licenses expired and were not re-issued, while many newspapers have been unable to buy paper, whose distribution is managed by a government-controlled company. Those newspapers that did manage to remain in operation have had to cut the number of pages and print runs, the union said. International media have also had their operations impacted: CNN´s Spanish-language broadcasts, as well as channels from neighbouring Colombia, have been removed from cable packages at the government´s behest.
  7. LEFT: Canada's charge d'affaires in the Canadian embassy Craig Kowalik in Caracas, Venezuela, August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello/Files; RIGHT: Venezuelan ambassador to Canada Wilmer Omar Barrientos Fernandez in Rideau Hall, Ottawa, Canada, January 6, 2015. MisionVenezuela via Office of the Governor General of Canada/Vincent Carbonneau/Files OTTAWA: Canada on Monday ordered Venezuela's ambassador and charge d'affaires to leave, escalating a row two days after its top diplomat at the Canadian embassy in Venezuela was kicked out by President Nicolas Maduro's regime. "In response to this move by the Maduro regime, I am announcing that the Venezuelan ambassador to Canada... is no longer welcome in Canada. "I am also declaring the Venezuelan charge d'affaires persona non grata," Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement. She noted that Wilmer Omar Barrientos Fernandez ? Venezuela's ambassador ? "had already been withdrawn by the Venezuelan government to protest Canadian sanctions against Venezuelan officials implicated in corruption and gross human rights abuses." The tit-for-tat response follows Venezuela's announcement on Saturday that Craig Kowalik ? Canada's charge d'affaires in the embassy in Caracas ? and Brazilian ambassador Ruy Pereira were no longer welcome. Kowalik was accused of "nagging [and] constant rude and offensive interference in Venezuela's domestic affairs," according to Delcy Rodriguez ? a Venezuelan official who heads a powerful body of Maduro loyalists known as the Constituent Assembly. Pereira was described as the representative of an illegitimate government in Brazil ? a stance Caracas has taken since conservative Brazilian President Michel Temer replaced impeached leftist president Dilma Rousseff. Venezuela has riposted fiercely against growing international condemnation of Maduro's tightening hold on power this year. Canada, the United States, Europe, and most Latin American nations have denounced what they call the trampling of democracy and human rights in the once-rich South American nation, which is now on the brink of default. On Friday, Canada imposed fresh sanctions on Maduro and members of his regime for alleged rights violations and corruption. Freeland said Venezuela's expulsion of Kowalik "is typical of the Maduro regime, which has consistently undermined all efforts to restore democracy and to help the Venezuelan people." "Canadians will not stand by as the government of Venezuela robs its people of their fundamental democratic and human rights, and denies them access to basic humanitarian assistance," she said.
  8. Venezuelan National Constituent Assembly president Delcy Rodriguez talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Files CARACAS: Venezuela?s leftist government began releasing some 80 anti-government activists on Saturday, and threatened to expel envoys from Canada and Brazil after criticism over rights. Delcy Rodriguez, head of the pro-government Constituent Assembly, told reporters the legislative super body was recommending 80 detainees be given alternative punishments such as community service and compensation for victims. Thirteen newly-released activists were later paraded in front of state TV cameras during a meeting with Rodriguez, a hardline ally of President Nicolas Maduro. They looked stony-faced as they sat listening to her admonishments in the formal surroundings of Venezuela?s colonial-era foreign ministry. Rights groups and foes of Maduro say authorities are unfairly holding 268 political prisoners for protesting against ?dictatorship.? Maduro, the 55-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez, says all jailed activists are there on legitimate charges of violence and subversion. ?Let it be understood that the events promoted by the extremist Venezuelan opposition, which caused Venezuelans? deaths, must not be repeated,? Rodriguez said. Some 170 people died in violence around two bouts of anti-Maduro street protests in 2014 and earlier this year. Boost to talks? The releases, albeit with alternative sentences, could inject life into stuttering political talks between the government and opposition due to resume in the Dominican Republic in early January. Western nations and Latin American neighbours have been increasingly critical of Maduro this year, accusing him of stamping on democracy and human rights. The government says foreign nations are trying to encourage a right-wing coup. Rodriguez said the Constituent Assembly - which various foreign countries refuse to accept - was also recommending Brazil?s ambassador Ruy Pereira and Canada?s charge d?affaires Craig Kowalik both be declared ?persona non grata.? There was no immediate reaction from Canada, but Brazil?s foreign ministry responded sternly. ?If confirmed, the Venezuelan government?s decision to declare Brazil?s ambassador persona non grata shows once more the authoritarian stance of Nicolas Maduro?s administration and its lack of willingness to engage in any dialogue,? it said, promising reciprocal measures. U.S. President Donald Trump?s administration has been especially critical of Maduro, imposing sanctions on him and other senior officials earlier this year. Under new stewardship with the arrival of charge d?affaires Todd Robinson last week, Washington?s embassy in Caracas called on Saturday for the freedom of all jailed activists. ?We urge Maduro?s regime to respect human rights,? it tweeted. ?Free them during this holiday time.?
  9. CARACAS: President Nicolas Maduro has set his sights on Venezuela?s 2018 presidential election after the ruling Socialist Party dominated mayoral polls with the help of a partial boycott by a divided opposition. Enjoying a political breather after a year of ferocious domestic protests and damaging foreign sanctions, the 55-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez said the government had won at least 90 percent of the 335 mayorships in Sunday?s election. Latest official results gave him 21 of 23 state capitals as well as Caracas? main district, with full results due later on Monday. The landslide win for the socialists was no surprise, given three of the biggest opposition parties did not field candidates. The elections left Maduro favorite to be the socialist candidate in next year?s presidential race, despite the ambitions of rivals within government and an economic crisis that has pummeled the OPEC nation since his 2013 election. ?Let?s get ready for 2018!? he told cheering supporters in a Caracas square shortly before midnight on Sunday, next to a statue of Venezuela?s independence hero Simon Bolivar. Maduro also declared fixing Venezuela?s broken economy a priority. But opponents and even some government dissenters say it is his stubborn adherence to Chavez-era economic policies, such as currency controls, that is to blame for the crisis. Venezuela?s 30 million people are enduring one of the worst economic meltdowns in recent Latin American history. Millions are skipping meals, missing medicines, and lining up for hours at shops during acute shortages and crippling inflation. Opposition parties said Sunday?s vote was full of irregularities and meaningless, and reiterated demands for changes to the electoral system for the 2018 vote. ?What we saw yesterday was an electoral farce that in no way represents the will of the people,? said Popular Will party leader Juan Andres Mejia, citing abuse of state resources and coercion of government employees to vote. MADURO ?WELL-POSITIONED? FOR RE-ELECTION Three of the opposition coalition?s main parties - Popular Will, Justice First and Democratic Action - boycotted Sunday?s polls, saying the election board was a pawn of the government. But other opposition parties did put up candidates, adding to confusion and acrimony within opposition ranks. Maduro said the three abstaining parties should be banned from participating in future elections. That brought a rebuke from the U.S. State Department, which called his remarks ?another extreme measure to close democratic space in Venezuela and consolidate power in his authoritarian dictatorship.? Venezuela?s presidential election has traditionally been held in December, but there is speculation in political circles that it will be brought forward to the first half of 2018 so the socialists can take advantage of the opposition?s disarray. ?Despite the regime?s economic incompetence and the inherent weaknesses of Maduro?s authoritarianism, he is well positioned to achieve re-election next year,? said Nicholas Watson, of the Teneo Intelligence consultancy. With its most popular leaders barred - Leopoldo Lopez is under arrest and Henrique Capriles is prohibited from office - the opposition may struggle to find a flagbearer. Uniting parties and reigniting enthusiasm among despondent grassroots supporters will also be huge challenges. Street protests earlier in 2017 put pressure on Maduro and left 125 people dead. Foreign pressure hardened too, with U.S. President Donald Trump imposing sanctions on Venezuela for alleged government rights abuses and corruption. Yet after facing down demonstrators, pushing through a controversial legislative superbody in a July vote also boycotted by the opposition, and notching a majority in October gubernatorial polls, Maduro has ridden out the storm for now. ?I think the current government can fix things if they are allowed to get on with it,? said mechanic Melix Jordan, 56, voting for the government in a rural part of Paraguana. Social discontent is running deep, however. There is no sign so far of an alternative presidential candidate, despite calls in some quarters for popular billionaire businessman Lorenzo Mendoza to run. ?My vote maybe doesn?t change anything,? said gardener Hector Machado, 64, who voted for the opposition in Tachira state. ?But I still have hope for something better next year.?
  10. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures as he arrives for a session of the National Constituent Assembly at Palacio Federal Legislativo in Caracas, Venezuela, August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/Files CARACAS: Venezuela?s President Nicolas Maduro is set for the latest in a sweep of poll victories in mayoral elections on Sunday, with the opposition showing little sign they can prevent his re-election next year. Battered by a series of electoral defeats, the main opposition parties are boycotting the vote, saying they lack any guarantees of fairness or transparency. Voters are heading to the polls to elect 355 mayors across the country, but the lack of a serious challenge to Maduro candidates has led to scepticism in the main cities of Caracas, Maracaibo and San Cristobal. "I?m not going to vote because I don?t believe in the transparency of the CNE (National Election Council)," said Nerver Huerta, a 38-year-old graphic designer in Caracas. Maduro?s ruling socialist party was handed a clear path to victory after the three main parties in the opposition coalition Democratic Union Roundtable, MUD, refused to participate, although smaller parties have decided to contest the election. On the cards is a repeat of the electoral drubbing suffered by the opposition in October?s regional elections, which they claim were fraudulent, analysts say. Opposition divided Battling a crippling economic crisis in the oil-rich, cash-poor nation, Maduro has made an aggressive push to consolidate power in the run-up to next year?s presidential elections. Risa Grais-Targow of market analysts Eurasia group, said this weekend?s boycott "will likely demoralize the opposition?s base and ensure that the government does quite well." That, she said, "along with a solid showing in October?s regional elections, will likely make President Nicolas Maduro feel confident about his ability to control the outcome of next year?s contest." According to electoral expert Eugenio Martinez, the opposition would do well to hold on to even half of its 72 mayorships. "The absence of the main opposition parties and the pressure of the Chavez machinery make it unfeasible for the opposition to maintain even half of the mayorships it controls," Martinez told AFP. The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will improve on its current 242 mayorships, he said. Key opposition leaders Maria Corina Machado and Henrique Capriles left the coalition when four of the five elected opposition governors in the regional elections were sworn in before Maduro?s Constituent Assembly. Swearing allegiance to the Assembly, created by Maduro as a means to bypass the opposition-dominated parliament, was seen as a sell-out by many Maduro opponents, particularly after months of deadly protests aimed at unseating him earlier this year. Any opposition mayors elected on Sunday will also have to accept to be sworn in before the Assembly. "They are not elections, but adjudications," Machado told AFP, adding that voting would mean recognition for the Constituent Assembly and thus constitute a "betrayal" of the 125 people killed in the protests. Yon Goicoechea is contesting the election against the wishes of his party because he says the opposition must "defend" the political space it occupies. Goicoechea, who is running for mayor in a Caracas municipality, said the government "will try to steal the vote, but we will not give it away." ?I?ll be there for Maduro? Maduro?s camp has its own problems, following the recent anti-corruption purge at state oil company PDVSA and the forced resignation of Maduro rival Rafael Ramirez from his post of Venezuela?s ambassador to the UN. But Chavism, the populist left-wing ideology left behind by late-president Hugo Chavez, will once again be able to rely on its massive vote-getting organization, as well as what analysts call its plain old-fashioned "clientelist structure" to mobilize voters on Sunday. "The president, despite everything, has helped me. I could not be ungrateful," said William Lugo, 65, as he managed the payment of Christmas bonuses that the government says benefits four million people. "I will vote on Sunday, and if we have to re-elect him, I will be there," he said.
  11. A man looks at prices in a grocery store in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, March 10, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello/Files CARACAS: Crisis-stricken Venezuela?s inflation rate reached quadruple digits for the first time, according to figures released by the opposition-led Congress, which show consumer prices rising by 1,369 percent between January and November. The legislature, which, this year, began publishing its own inflation figures after the government stopped releasing them, said prices rose by 56.7 percent in November and estimated that 2017 inflation would top 2,000 percent. The once-thriving socialist economy of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member nation has collapsed since the 2014 fall of oil prices, leaving millions unable to find basic food or medicine. President Nicolas Maduro blames the situation on an opposition-led ?economic war?. ?More hunger and misery is on the way for our already beaten-down population,? said opposition deputy Angel Alvarado, who presented the report. Economists generally say that a country is in hyperinflation when the monthly rate tops 50 percent for three months or annual rates remain above three digits for three years. The central bank reported inflation of 180 percent and 240 percent in 2015 and 2016, which had been the highest on record. It has since then stopped providing figures. The Central Bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Maduro says business leaders are arbitrarily inflating prices to destabilize his government. Critics say an unchecked expansion of the money supply has debased the bolivar currency. According to official data, monetary liquidity grew 14 percent in a single week of November ? the steepest rise since the central bank began keeping records in 1940.
  12. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during his weekly radio and TV broadcast "Los Domingos con Maduro" (The Sundays with Maduro) in Caracas, Venezuela, December 3, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS CARACAS: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro looked to the world of digital currency to circumvent US-led financial sanctions, announcing on Sunday the launch of the ?petro? backed by oil reserves to shore up a collapsed economy. The leftist leader offered few specifics about the currency launch or how the struggling OPEC member would pull off such a feat, but he declared to cheers that ?the 21st century has arrived!? ?Venezuela will create a cryptocurrency,? backed by oil, gas, gold and diamond reserves, Maduro said in his regular Sunday televised broadcast, a five-hour showcase of Christmas songs and dancing. The petro, he said, would help Venezuela ?advance in issues of monetary sovereignty, to make financial transactions and overcome the financial blockade.? Opposition leaders derided the announcement, which they said needed congressional approval, and some cast doubt on whether the digital currency would ever see the light of day in the midst of turmoil. The real currency, the bolivar, is in freefall, and the country is sorely lacking in basic needs like food and medicine. Still, the announcement highlights how sanctions enacted this year by US President Donald Trump?s administration are hurting Venezuela?s ability to move money through international banks. Washington has levied sanctions against Venezuelan officials, PDVSA executives and the country?s debt issuance. Sources say compliance departments are scrutinizing transactions linked to Venezuela, which has slowed some bond payments and complicated certain oil exports. Maduro's pivot away from the US dollar comes after the recent spectacular rise of bitcoin, which has been fueled by signs that the digital currency is slowly gaining traction in the mainstream investment world. The announcement bewildered some followers of cryptocurrencies, which typically are not backed by any government or central banks. Ironically, Venezuela?s currency controls in recent years have spurred a bitcoin fad among tech-savvy Venezuelans looking to bypass controls to obtain dollars or make internet purchases. ?No credibility,? opposition says Maduro?s government has a poor track record in monetary policy. Currency controls and excessive money printing have led to a 57 percent depreciation of the bolivar against the dollar in the last month alone on the widely used black market. That has dragged down the monthly minimum wage to a mere $4.30. For the millions of Venezuelans plunged into poverty and struggling to eat three meals a day, Maduro?s announcement is unlikely to bring any immediate relief. Economists and opposition leaders say Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, has recklessly refused to overhaul Venezuela?s controls and stem the economic meltdown. He could now be seeking to pay bondholders and foreign creditors in the currency amid a plan to restructure the country?s major debt burden, opposition leaders said, but the plan is likely to flop. ?It?s Maduro being a clown. This has no credibility,? opposition lawmaker and economist Angel Alvarado told Reuters. ?I see no future in this,? added fellow opposition legislator Jose Guerra. Maduro says he is trying to combat a Washington-backed conspiracy to sabotage his government and end socialism in Latin America. On Sunday he said Venezuela was facing a financial ?world war.?
  13. Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, President of Dominican Republic Danilo Medina, and Miguel Vargas ? the Chancellor of the Dominican Republic ? attend the Venezuela's government and opposition coalition meeting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas SANTO DOMINGO/CARACAS: Members of Venezuela?s leftist government and opposition coalition began a new round of talks in the Dominican Republic on Friday aimed at resolving the OPEC nation?s long-running and often bloody political standoff. Various mediation efforts have failed in recent years: foes accuse President Nicolas Maduro of exploiting dialogue to buy time, while he says the opposition prefers violence. Few Venezuelans expect a breakthrough this time, with opponents demoralized at seeing Maduro consolidate power and position himself for possible re-election in 2018. The Democratic Unity coalition ? which failed to dislodge Maduro in months of street protests this year that led to about 125 deaths ? is pressing primarily for a guarantee of free and fair voting next year. It also wants a foreign humanitarian aid corridor to alleviate one of the worst economic crises in modern history, as well as freedom for several hundred jailed activists, and respect for the opposition-led Congress. ?We?ve come to seek solutions to Venezuela?s problems: food, medicines, free elections, and the need to restore democracy,? lead opposition negotiator Julio Borges said. ?It?s a difficult path.? The opposition?s bargaining power has been weakened by a surprising defeat in October gubernatorial elections. Furthermore, the multi-party group is divided, with more militant sectors opposing the talks. ?The dialogue they are planning to start is a parody... an instrument for the regime to gain time and keep itself in power,? Antonio Ledezma ? an opposition leader who escaped house arrest this month to seek asylum abroad ? said. US factor Maduro has instructed negotiators to focus on opposition to US sanctions against his government. He was strengthened by the October vote and anticipates another win in mayoral elections set for December, which the opposition is mainly boycotting. US President Donald Trump has slapped individual sanctions on a raft of officials for alleged rights abuses, corruption and drugs crimes, as well as economic measures intended to stop the Venezuelan government issuing new debt. Maduro wants any potential deal with the opposition to include joint pressure on Washington to back off. He has blamed the US measures for Venezuela?s economic problems, which in fact began several years ago amid failed statist policies and a plunge in global oil prices. ?We came to demand the immediate end of the economic aggressions against Venezuela,? said chief government negotiator and Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez. There is no indication, however, that Trump would be prepared to ease pressure on Maduro, whom he has called ?a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.? On the contrary, US officials say Washington could strengthen sanctions unless Maduro enacts democratic changes. The government also wants recognition for Venezuela?s Constituent Assembly, an entirely pro-Maduro super body elected in July despite an opposition boycott and widespread international condemnation. With an eye to its push to refinance more than $120 billion in foreign debt, Maduro would like the opposition-led Congress to agree to approve any negotiations with bondholders, a potential loophole to get around the US sanctions. Foreign ministers from Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic ? the host ? were acting as guarantors at the talks over two days at the Foreign Ministry building in Santo Domingo. ?Major near-term breakthroughs remain unlikely given the complexity of issues on the table and the distance between each side?s preferences,? said Eurasia group consultancy.
  14. A boat is seen close to oil installations at Lake Maracaibo in Cabimas, Venezuela, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Isaac Urrutia/Files HOUSTON/DUBAI: As Venezuela?s dilapidated energy sector struggles to pump enough crude oil to meet the output target set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for the country, rival producers have started to plug the gap, according to OPEC and industry sources and US government data. The South American country?s oil output hit a 28-year low in October as state-owned oil giant PDVSA struggled to find the funds to drill wells, maintain oilfields and keep pipelines and ports working. Venezuela's oil production, which has been falling by about 20,000 barrels per day (BPD) per month since last year, is on track to fall by at least 250,000 BPD in 2017, according to numbers reported to the OPEC, as US sanctions and a lack of capital hobble operations. Some OPEC members expect the fall to accelerate in 2018, reaching at least 300,000 BPD, OPEC sources said. At a recent internal OPEC meeting, Venezuelan officials were asked to give a clearer picture of the country?s declining output. ?A lot of questions have been raised by Saudis and others to the Venezuelans to present a real picture on the production status and decline,? one of the sources said. The topic could come up later this month at the group?s next meeting. Saudi Arabia will not raise its output to compensate for this decline as OPEC?s defector leader is focused on reducing global oil stocks, one OPEC source familiar with Saudi oil policy told Reuters this month. But heavy oil from OPEC member Iraq and non-OPEC producers Canada and Brazil are already replacing Venezuelan barrels to key customers the United States and India, according to the sources and Thomson Reuters data. The Iraq shipments remain within OPEC targets. Iraq has increased shipments of crude and condensate to India by 80,000 BPD this year as Venezuelan deliveries fell by 84,000 BPD. The second largest OPEC producer also has exported 201,000 BPD more oil to the United States this year through October as Venezuelan shipments dropped about 90,000 BPD, according to the Reuters data. Venezuela?s weaker output ?could be good for market rebalance and we could see price stay at $60 for a slightly longer time,? one OPEC source said. ?That doesn?t mean there will be no free riders,? the source added. Plugging the gap Venezuela pumped 1.863 million BPD in October, undershooting its OPEC target by 109,000 BPD, according to an assessment that OPEC uses to monitor members? output. It said it had pumped 1.955 million BPD, still below its output target of 1.972 million BPD. There often are discrepancies between the assessment and official figures reported by the OPEC members. When member countries have suffered supply disruptions in the past, other OPEC members have covered the gap, often without changing official production quotas. Saudi Arabia boosted its output in 2003 to offset Iraq?s falling exports after the US invasion, but the agreement was never formally disclosed. OPEC discussions of Venezuela?s quota is not new. Proposals to change the country?s quota have been raised and batted down several times in OPEC meetings since the South American country?s production started declining in 2012, a Venezuelan government source said. In the past, when faced with questions about falling output, Venezuela has argued that it was working to reverse declines from its sizeable proven oil reserves. But it could be difficult for Venezuelan officials to convince OPEC that an upturn is likely in the near future as the country seeks to restructure $60 billion in debt. Dependent on oil revenues, Venezuela has seen its economy contract sharply in the three years since crude prices collapsed from over $100 a barrel. Reviews of quotas and reallocation of market share can be contentious, and the group may prefer to allow market forces to fill the supply gap left by Venezuela?s decline rather than make an official share revision and reallocation to other members, one senior OPEC source said. A formal change would be opening a ?can of worms? that OPEC would not want to do, the source added. OPEC?s oil ministers will meet in Vienna later this month to discuss supply policy. The group is expected to extend beyond March an agreement under which its members and rival producers, including Russia, have reduced joint output by about 1.8 million BPD. ?We want a successful meeting on November 30, re-discussing quotas will not be accepted by Venezuela and talking about it at the meeting will just open the door for others to do the same,? the senior OPEC source said.
  15. Miss World Manushi Chhillar. Photo: AFP An Indian medical student was crowned Miss World at a glitzy event in a Chinese resort on Saturday, making her country the joint-most successful in the beauty pageant's history. Manushi Chhillar is the sixth Indian winner of the long-running contest, following in the footsteps of Bollywood actresses Priyanka Chopra and Aishwarya Rai. Her win brings India level with Venezuela as the countries with most victories in the history of the pageant, now in its 67th edition. Chhillar, 20, is a trained Indian classical dancer who also enjoys painting and hopes to open a chain of non-profit hospitals in rural areas, according to the Miss World website. "Thank you, everyone, for your constant love, support," and prayers she wrote on Twitter. "This one's for India." Her victory rapidly became a top trending topic on the social media platform in India after the announcement, with Manohar Lal Khattar ? the minister of her home state of Haryana ? among the first to offer congratulations. Chhillar was handed the crown by last year's winner, Stephanie del Valle of Puerto Rico, at the ceremony in the Chinese coastal city of Sanya on Saturday night. Stephanie Hill of England and Andrea Meza of Mexico finished as runners-up. Saturday marked the Miss World pageant's return to Sanya, on southern China's Hainan Island, for a seventh time, where the event was last held in 2015. At the previous occasion two years ago, controversy erupted as officials in Hong Kong stopped Miss Canada, Anastasia Lin, from boarding a plane bound for Sanya, telling her she would not receive a visa. The 25-year old actress claimed the decision was due to her stance on China's human rights record, including its persecution of Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual group of which she is a practitioner. At last year's event in the United States, Lin was again embroiled in controversy when pageant officials reportedly warned her against speaking to the press for three weeks about human rights abuses in China. Miss Lin did not participate in this year's event, with Canada represented instead by Cynthia Menard, a high school student.
  16. (L-R) Venezuelan Ambassador to Russia Carlos Rafael Faria Tortosa, Venezuela's minister of agriculture Wilmar Castro Soteldo, and finance minister Simon Zerpa give a press briefing in Moscow, Russia, November 15, 2017. AFP/Alexander Nemenov MOSCOW: Venezuela signed a debt restructuring deal with major creditor Russia on Wednesday, as rating agencies declared Caracas in partial default. The country is seeking to restructure its foreign debts, estimated at around $150 billion after it was hit hard by tumbling oil prices and American sanctions. A Venezuelan delegation led by Finance Minister Simon Zerpa signed the deal restructuring $3.15 billion of debt taken out in 2011 to finance the purchase of Russian arms. Under the agreement, Caracas will pay back its debts over 10 years, with "minimal" reimbursements for the first six years, Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement. "The reduction of the burden of debt... will allow the utilisation of funds to develop the country's economy, improve the debtor's solvency and increase the chances of all creditors recovering loans already made," according to the statement on the ministry's website. "These are very favourable terms that Venezuela can honour. This deal strengthens the relations between our two countries," Venezuelan vice president for the economy Wilmar Castro Soteldo told a press conference in Moscow. But the goal of solvency seemed a distant one Wednesday after S&P Global Ratings said it had placed Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA in "selective default" for failing to make interest payments on some of its debt. The rating agency this week declared the country itself in selective default after it failed to make $200 million in payments on two global bond issues. Fitch also downgraded PDVSA and cash-strapped Venezuela over delayed payments, but Caracas insisted it was in the process of paying up. "It's a respite, but a slight respite," Orlando Ochoa, a Venezuelan economist, told AFP. "It doesn't change the context, it doesn't help to stabilize the economy or substantially increase its ability to pay." Caracas has only $9.7 billion in foreign reserves and needs to pay back at least $1.47 billion in interest on various bonds by the end of the year, and then about $8 billion in 2018. Russia and China are the two main creditors and allies of Venezuela, which owes them an estimated $8 billion and $28 billion respectively. The Chinese foreign ministry on Wednesday expressed confidence that Caracas could "properly handle" its debt crisis, adding that financial cooperation was "proceeding normally". Food and medicine shortages In response to the downgrading by rating agencies, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said Venezuela was already catching up on the payments. "Today, we have begun interest payments on Venezuela's foreign debt and last week, PDVSA made its debt interest payments," he said on state television Tuesday. "We pay our debts, despite what the rating agencies, the US Treasury, the European Union or (US President) Donald Trump say." A committee of 15 financial firms meeting in New York meanwhile put off a decision for a third straight day on whether to declare a "Failure to Pay Credit Event" at PDVSA. They were to reconvene Thursday to determine whether holders of PDVSA debt with default insurance ? known as credit default swaps ? can collect payment. PDVSA is vulnerable to creditors potentially moving to seize crude shipments or refinery assets abroad, particularly from its US subsidiary Citgo. If a selective default spreads to other bond issues, particularly the nation's sovereign debt, the South American country would probably be declared in full default. A full default ? recognition that Venezuela is unable to repay its massive debt ? would have enormous consequences for the country, whose population is already suffering severe food and medicine shortages because of a lack of money to import them. 'Violent narco-state' President Nicolas Maduro has formed a commission to restructure Venezuela's sovereign debt and PDVSA's obligations. But participants in a first meeting in Caracas Monday said officials had given no concrete details on its plans. Though the government declared the meeting a "resounding success" the Eurasia research group is more sceptical. "The lack of substance at the 13 November meeting with bondholders suggests that the government lacks a strategy for debt talks and is looking to buy time and relief from creditors," it said. A default can be declared by the major rating agencies, big debtholders or the government itself. Maduro is also under fire internationally for marginalising the opposition, which controls the legislature and stifling independent media. The United States called an informal meeting of the UN Security Council, where US Ambassador Nikki Haley slammed Venezuela as an "increasingly violent narco-state" that poses a threat to world security. Permanent council members Russia and China boycotted the talks. Venezuela's envoy to the UN, Rafael Ramirez, called the meeting a "hostile" act of US "interference."
  17. A woman counts Venezuelan bolivar notes at a vegetable street market in Caracas, Venezuela November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello CARACAS: Venezuela?s socialist government gifted chocolates to creditors on Monday, but offered no firm proposals at a brief meeting in Caracas that left investors without a clear understanding of the government?s strategy to renegotiate $60 billion in debt. President Nicolas Maduro confused investors this month with a vow to continue paying Venezuela?s crippling debt, while also seeking to restructure and refinance it. Both restructuring and refinancing appear out of the question, however, due to US sanctions against the crisis-stricken nation. A default would compound Venezuela?s dire economic crisis. Monday?s short and confused meeting, attended by senior Venezuelan officials blacklisted by the United States, gave no clarity on how Maduro would carry out his plan, bondholders and their representatives who participated said afterwards. That means Venezuela remains with the dilemma of whether to continuing paying the debt at the expense of an increasingly hungry and sick population, or defaulting on creditors and burning its bridges to the global financial system. ?There was no offer, no terms, no strategy, nothing,? said one bondholder, leaving the meeting that lasted a little over half an hour at the ?White Palace?, departing with a colourful gift-bag containing Venezuelan chocolates and coffee. But bond prices maintained last week?s rally, with one investor saying there was relief the meeting did not include a default announcement. Nearly $300 million in late interest payments on three bonds ? PDVSA 2027, Venezuela 2019, and Venezuela 2024 ? was also due on Monday after 30-day grace periods ended. But bondholders appeared unconcerned at the delay, which was due in part to increased bank vigilance of Venezuela transactions. ?My expectation is that the coupon payments will come through as well,? said Jan Dehn, Head of Research at Ashmore Investment Management. ?We know that these delays exist and why they exist.? About 100 investors, including some bondholders from New York and lawyers representing creditors, entered the ?White Palace? via a red carpet and were greeted by a poster of Maduro?s predecessor Hugo Chavez at the entrance of the meeting room inside. Sanctions overshadow meeting Chief debt negotiators Vice President Tareck El Aissami and Economy Minister Simon Zerpa ? on US sanctions lists for drug and corruption charges respectively ? attended the meeting for half an hour. They met with some bondholders, while others stayed out of the room on concerns about penalties for dealing with officials sanctioned by Washington. El Aissami told creditors that Deutsche Bank may soon cut off some financial services to Venezuela, participants said. Deutsche declined to comment. He read a statement protesting unfair treatment by global financial institutions, including US President Donald Trump?s sanctions aimed at preventing Venezuela from issuing new debt. ?Now Maduro can say: ?I showed goodwill, the bondholders showed goodwill ... but unfortunately, because Uncle Sam is not playing ball we can?t (refinance)',? said Dehn, who did not attend the meeting. ?I?m not hugely surprised nothing?s come out of that meeting.? Separately, the European Union approved economic sanctions and an arms embargo on Venezuela on Monday, although it has yet to name who will be subject to the sanctions. Markets continue to remain optimistic that Venezuela will service its debts, noting it has made close to $2 billion in payments in the past two weeks, albeit delayed. Bond prices were up across the board on Monday, with the benchmark 2022 notes issued by state oil firm PDVSA rising 3.3 percentage points. The economic implosion has already taken a brutal toll on Venezuelans. Citizens are suffering from malnutrition and preventable diseases because they cannot find food and medicine or cannot afford them because of triple-digit inflation. The sight of poor Venezuelans eating from garbage bags has become a powerful symbol of decay. It contrasts sharply with the era of Chavez when high oil prices helped fuel state spending. Halting debt service would free up an additional $1.6 billion in hard currency by the end of the year. Those resources could be used to improve supplies of staple goods as Maduro heads into a presidential election expected for 2018. But the strategy could backfire if met with aggressive lawsuits. A default by PDVSA, which issued about half of the country?s outstanding bonds, could ensnare the company?s foreign assets such as refineries in legal battles ? potentially crimping export revenue.
  18. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during his weekly radio and TV broadcast 'Los Domingos con Maduro' (The Sundays with Maduro) in Caracas, Venezuela, November 12, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS CARACAS: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro insisted on Sunday that his cash-strapped country would "never" default, as he prepared to meet with creditors in Caracas to discuss rescheduling part of the country's massive $150-billion debt. "Never, default will never reach Venezuela," he declared on his weekly television show. "Our strategy is to renegotiate and refinance all the debt." Maduro pointed to ongoing negotiations with his allies China and Russia, to which Venezuela owes $28 billion and $8 billion, respectively. He said talks with China were "moving along perfectly" and noted that agreement had been reached this week with Moscow to restructure roughly $3 billion in loans. That was seen to give Caracas at least a few weeks' breathing room to make other upcoming payments. But sanctions imposed by the United States in August ? the White House cited the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the creation of "an illegitimate Constituent Assembly", and "rampant public corruption" ? have made it hard for the country to raise money from international investors. Venezuela's huge levels of debt have left it in a desperate state, unable to import badly needed food, medicine, and other goods. Maduro accused the financial rating agencies ? which this week lowered Venezuela's debt rating ? of being part of a "financial war" waged by the United States, a favourite target of his. The downgrading of Venezuela's ratings by Standard and Poor's and Fitch was seen as increasing the likelihood of a default.
  19. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures as he arrives for a session of the National Constituent Assembly at Palacio Federal Legislativo in Caracas, Venezuela, August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/Files CARACAS: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro?s socialist government has set a high-profile location near the presidential palace in Caracas for Monday?s hotly awaited meeting with investors to discuss renegotiating $60 billion in foreign debt. The newly created debt renegotiation committee will meet with creditors at 2 PM (1800 GMT) at the government?s ?White Palace? opposite the presidential building, Finance Minister Simon Zerpa said on Saturday. Market sources had said Zerpa plus committee head and Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who are both on US sanctions lists for corruption and drug-trafficking accusations respectively, would sit out the meeting to allay any fears about legal repercussions for anyone meeting them. But Zerpa?s exhortation to attend, plus the location of the meeting right opposite the Miraflores presidential palace, appear to indicate the meeting will not be a low-profile affair. ?Once again, we invite investors to register their participation in this meeting,? Zerpa, who is also the finance boss of state oil company PDVSA, said in a tweet. A PDVSA source said both he and El Aissami would be present, but there was no official confirmation. Maduro?s move a week ago to summon bondholders for talks about ?restructuring? and ?refinancing? roughly $60 billion in bonds has spooked markets worried Venezuela may be heading for default amid US financial sanctions. Measures by US President Donald Trump?s administration against the Maduro government, which it accuses of being a ?dictatorship? that has impoverished Venezuela?s 30 million people through corruption and incompetence, effectively bar US banks from rolling over the country?s debt into new bonds. Venezuela did, however, appear to be honouring its most recent debt payment, $1.2 billion due on a bond from PDVSA. Two investors told Reuters they had finally received payment, albeit delayed. Who will come? It is unclear how widespread investor participation in Monday?s meeting will be. US-based creditors are not prohibited from attending the meeting but are barred from dealings with officials such as Zerpa and El Aissami. With no sign of reforms to overhaul a moribund economy and those two on the government?s committee, economists are puzzling whether Maduro really wants to refinance the debt. Rather, some speculate, he might be preparing the ground for an inevitable default by the cash-strapped government after which he would blame Washington, or he could be seeking to leverage foreign investor pressure on Trump to ease sanctions. ?We do not hold big hopes on Monday?s bondholder meeting,? New York-based financial services company Stifel said in a report. ?It likely will be just an information session, in which bondholders probably would be more interested in hearing whether the past-due coupons will be paid than how a restructuring can be done.? On the streets, Venezuelans know little of the ins and outs of the complex debt debate, but they are praying for an improvement to dire hardships. Many are skipping meals during the fourth year of a recession that has seen shortages of basics, soaring prices, and a collapsing bolivar currency. In power since 2013 after the death of predecessor Hugo Chavez from cancer, Maduro has so far prioritized debt payments over imports, compounding Venezuelans? hardships. A default might give a short-term financial reprieve to the government, enabling it to raise imports with a presidential election approaching in 2018. But it could also do further economic harm if investors pursue debts aggressively, including going after assets in the all-important oil sector.
  20. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley comments as she arrives for a Security Council meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York City, US, August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files UNITED NATIONS: The United States hopes that a meeting next week at the United Nations on Venezuela will pave the way to international action to prevent the crisis from turning into a security threat, according to a US document sent to the Security Council on Friday. US Ambassador Nikki Haley will chair the informal council meeting on Monday held as Venezuela, already reeling from political and economic crises, teeters on the brink of default. "The international community needs to work collectively to address the unfolding crisis and its humanitarian impact in Venezuela and beyond before it worsens and potentially develops into a threat to international peace and security," the US mission said in the document obtained by AFP. Venezuela has been in turmoil since anti-government protests in April left more than 100 dead and worsening shortages of food and medicine. On Friday, the country was headed for a formal debt default, owing about $150 billion. Over the past six months, over 500,000 Venezuelans have fled to Colombia and countries in the region, said the US document. Neighboring countries are struggling to take in the Venezuelans who are becoming more vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual exploitation, it said. "As the Venezuelan economy continues to crumble, the situation will likely only worsen especially as the country is at risk of defaulting on its debt," it added. The council will hear from Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS) and an outspoken critic of President Nicolas Maduro's government. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein will also address the meeting along with lawyer Julio Henriquez, the coordinator of the Foro Penal human rights organization and Joseph Donnelly of aid group Caritas International. Haley has called on the council to turn its attention to Venezuela after leading a closed-door meeting of the top UN body on the crisis in May. The council has up until now maintained that regional organizations were best placed to address the situation. During a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this week, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri said he urged the United Nations to help address the health and food emergency in Venezuela.
  21. CARACAS: Venezuela on Thursday announced plans to restructure its burgeoning foreign debt, a move that may lead to a default by the cash-strapped OPEC nation whose collapsing socialist economy has left its population struggling to find food and medicine. President Nicolas Maduro vowed to make a $1.1 billion payment on a bond maturing on Thursday, but also created a commission to study ?restructuring of all future payments? in order to meet the needs of citizens. Venezuela has few avenues to do that though because of sanctions by the United States that bar American banks from participating in or even negotiating such deals. Thus, Maduro?s most readily available recourse to ease payments is unilaterally halting them. ?I am naming a special presidential commission led by Vice President Tareck El Aissami to begin refinancing and restructuring all of Venezuela?s external debt and (begin) the fight against the financial persecution of our country,? Maduro said in a televised speech. Venezuela and state-owned companies have $49 billion in bonds governed by New York Law and promissory notes, according to New York-based Torino Capital. The government and state oil company PDVSA owe some $1.6 billion in debt service and delayed interest payments by the end of the year, plus another $9 billion in bond servicing in 2018. The next hard payment deadline for PDVSA is an $81 million bond payment that was due on Oct 12 but on which the company delayed payment under a 30-day grace period. Failing to pay that on time would trigger a default, investors say. ?Without a team, without a communications strategy and without a plan, I see a restructuring impossible,? said Asdrubal Oliveros of Caracas-based Ecoanalitica. ?However, if the government decrees a unilateral restructuring - they say ?take it or leave it? - that is an event of default.? That would likely make countries less willing to do business with Venezuela, aggravating shortages of food and medicine and creating further problems for its all vital oil industry that is already hobbled by under-investment. Venezuela?s latest move could unleash a sovereign debt crisis of a scale not seen in Latin America since the massive 2001 default in Argentina that shut it out of global financial markets for years. Wall St. for years pumped billions of dollars into Venezuela by way of bond purchases, passing off the revolutionary rhetoric of the ruling Socialist Party as bluster that belied an iron-clad willingness to pay its debts. Maduro surprised many by maintaining debt service after the 2014 crash in oil prices, diverting hard currency away from imports of food and medicine toward Wall St. investors. PDVSA carried out a debt renegotiation in 2016. But that option was taken off the table after U.S. President Donald Trump levied sanctions blocking the purchase of new debt issued by Venezuela and government-owned entities. INVESTORS PUZZLED Investors seemed puzzled by Maduro?s statements on Thursday, which neither clearly declared default nor laid out a path to easing payment burden. And a restructuring plan would not get investor support without a clear plan to create a functioning market economy, said Jorge Piedrahita of New York-based Gear Capital Partners. ?I don?t think they?ve thought through the issues,? said Piedrahita. ?You need an economic program with some credibility behind it, otherwise why would people give you the benefit of the restructuring?? The mere presence of El Aissami on the new debt commission makes it a non-starter for U.S. financial institution. He was blacklisted this year by U.S. Treasury Department on accusations he is involved in drug trafficking. The increased pressure of the sanctions has already made banks more nervous about working with PDVSA, according to financial industry sources, leading to delays in simple operations. PDVSA struggled for days to deliver funds for a bond payment due last week amid confusion over which banks were charged with transferring the money. El Aissami on Thursday said settlement agent Euroclear had ?blocked? a $1.2 billion bond payment. Critics say Maduro?s decision to put debt above imports has taken a huge toll on the population. Child malnutrition has reached the scale of a humanitarian crisis in four Venezuelan states, according to a May 2017 report by Caritas Internationalis, a Rome-based non-governmental organization with links to the Catholic Church. Medicine shortages have also left children dying of preventable diseases. Officials say ideological adversaries are exaggerating problems for political effect. But the situation is a stark contrast to the oil boom years of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who spent generously on social welfare programs while borrowing profusely to keep spending at full tilt. Venezuela?s debt is the highest yielding of emerging market bonds measured by JPMorgan?s EMBI Global Diversified Index, paying investors an average of 31 percentage points more than comparable US Treasury notes. That is nearly double the spread on bonds issued by Mozambique, which is already in default, and more than six times the spread on bonds from war-torn Ukraine.
  22. A man takes a photo of a Toyota Motor Corp's Corolla car in Caracas, Venezuela, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello CARACAS: Toyota Motor Corp on Wednesday unveiled a new model of its Corolla vehicle that will be assembled in Venezuela, marking a bright note for a local auto industry struggling to survive amid the country?s deep economic recession. Toyota said it was currently producing 20 units per month of the new Corolla, which will be sold only in Venezuela, and expected to raise production in 2018. Company executives acknowledged that demand for cars in Venezuela has fallen steadily amid the crisis. ?We know the current state of the industry,? Toyota Venezuela president Hiroyuki Ueda said at a press conference to present the new vehicle. ?However, we have overcome obstacles, we have a new Corolla ? and this is for us a reason for celebration.? The once-thriving Venezuelan automotive sector went from selling almost 500,000 units a year in 2007 to about 3,000 vehicles last year, according to the country?s auto industry association. Toyota?s existing facility in Venezuela employs 1,100 staff and has a capacity of 22,000 units per year but is currently assembling only 100 units per month and expects to close out 2017 with an output of only 1,200 units. Close to 100 multinationals remain in the country with operations at a minimum due to lack of raw materials, resulting primarily from a shortage of dollars caused a dysfunctional currency control system. Several automakers including Toyota sell cars in dollars, a practice the government prohibit for most items but has specifically approved for the auto industry in order to allow them to import assembly parts without going through the exchange controls. Toyota will sell two versions of its Corolla: a family model that sells only in local bolivar currency and a luxury edition that will be sold in a combination of bolivars and dollars at an approximate cost of around $30,000. Wilfredo Valdivia ? Toyota?s institutional relations manager in Venezuela ? said the subsidiary uses revenue from the export of locally-manufactured parts to help maintain operations. ?Our priority and philosophy is to maintain production,? Valdivia told Reuters. ?We are working at very low volumes, but we have made a commitment.?
  23. CARACAS: In another setback for Venezuela?s dispirited opposition, four of its five state governors broke with their coalition?s official stance on Monday to swear themselves in before a pro-government legislative superbody. The Democratic Unity coalition went into the Oct. 15 gubernatorial polls as favourites for a big win against President Nicolas Maduro?s candidates because of voter anger at a brutal economic crisis in the OPEC member. But it ended up taking just five of 23 states. Initially alleging fraud, the opposition later acknowledged that abstentionism in its ranks played a big part in the defeat, which shed doubt on its ability to beat the ruling socialists in next year?s presidential vote. After the regional ballot, the coalition said none of its winning candidates would ?kneel? before the pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly body, which it has refused to recognise since its establishment in an election in July. But the newly elected governors for Tachira, Merida, Nuevo Esparta and Anzoategui - all from the Democratic Action party, one of Venezuela?s biggest and oldest - swore themselves in before assembly directors as a prerequisite to taking office. After presiding over the ceremony, Constituent Assembly head Delcy Rodriguez chided the one winning opposition candidate, Juan Pablo Guanipa of oil-rich Zulia state, who held out. ?These actions will have consequences,? she said. Maduro previously warned there may be a new election in any state where the winner does not swear loyalty to the assembly. Guanipa, of the Justice First party, which has a militant line against Maduro, said he would not legitimize the ?fraudulent? Constituent Assembly whose election the opposition boycotted. ?Zulia will never kneel before the dictatorship,? he added. MADURO: ?TURN THE PAGE? Critics see the creation of the Constituent Assembly, which has superseded all powers including the opposition-led congress, as the cementing of dictatorship in Venezuela. Major Western and Latin American nations have refused to recognise its legitimacy. But Maduro said it was the only way to bring peace back after four months of opposition protests this year that led to 125 deaths, thousands of arrests and injuries, and widespread damage to property and infrastructure. Appearing on state TV late on Monday, Maduro said he had congratulated the four Democratic Action governors by telephone and would meet with them, possibly as soon as Tuesday. ?I?ve told them: ?Let?s turn the page ... and get down to work,'? he said. Democratic Action is one of the biggest parties in the opposition coalition, and its decision on Monday infuriated many opposition supporters who viewed it as a sellout. The move could presage a complete reformulation, or possible breakup, of the coalition, which consists of more than two dozen parties and has long suffered from infighting. ?We are going to see a new unity. In the worst crises and circumstances, opportunities always crop up,? wrote opposition leader Henrique Capriles, of the Justice First party, hinting at imminent changes. The coalition?s biggest triumph was a resounding victory at December 2015 legislative elections. But it has been in the doldrums since Maduro survived this year?s protests, and many Venezuelans perceive its leaders as elitist. Further pummelling his foes, Maduro named five senior officials as ?protectors? for the states won by the opposition, undermining its influence on the ground by granting new funding and parallel responsibilities to government figures there.
  24. Venezuelan prisons are said to be overpopulated and inmates are malnourished. Photo: AFP CARACAS: An Italian, a Swiss and a Venezuelan journalist have been arrested as they prepared a report on a prison in northern Venezuela, human rights and press freedom groups said. Roberto Di Matteo of Italy, Filippo Rossi of Switzerland and Jesus Medina of Venezuela were arrested Friday after entering Tocoron prison in northern Aragua state with a television crew, according to the rights group Foro Penal. The national journalists union said the trio were conducting a "media investigation" when they were arrested. Critics say Venezuelan prisons are overpopulated and inmates are malnourished, despite government plans to reduce inmate populations. The Swiss foreign ministry said the Swiss embassy in Caracas "is in contact with the appropriate authorities and is assisting this Swiss national in accordance with the consular protections afforded him." The Italian foreign ministry said its mission "has been following from the very beginning the arrest of Italian national Roberto Di Matteo, and is in close contact with local authorities." Di Matteo works as a videographer for Italian daily newspaper Il Giornale, regularly collaborating with independent journalist Rossi, the publication said on its website. Rossi had also worked with regional Swiss daily Corriere del Ticino, while Medina is a photojournalist for anti-government website DolarToday. The union released a photograph of the three journalists taken from the back, apparently handcuffed and escorted by two military personnel. Their cellphones and small cameras were confiscated. Union representatives told AFP the journalists were in good health late Saturday. "They are doing well and show no signs of mistreatment," according to the SNTP union. "They had an invitation to enter Tocoron. They had registered to enter when they were barred access and then arrested. It seems there was a counter-order to bar them access." Foro Penal director Alfredo Romero said some of his group's lawyers had travelled to provide legal aid to the trio, who are being held by national police. Late last year, rights group Una Ventana a La Libertad estimated that there are some 88,000 inmates across a country with an official prison capacity of 35,000. President Nicolas Maduro's government, which says it is being unfairly disparaged in national and international media, says it has successfully applied measures to pacify prisons and raise their standards to international norms.
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