Venezuela Weekly: DIRECTV Leaves Venezuela in Response to U.S. Sanctions

 

The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign is impacting Venezuelan citizens, restricting their alternatives in ever evolving ways. On May 19, U.S. telecommunications giant AT&T announced it would be discontinuing DIRECTV service to Venezuela because it could not both avoid U.S. sanctions and honor the Maduro government’s requirements that it transmit Globovisión and the television channel of the state oil company PDVSA. DIRECTV has 44% of the pay television market in Venezuela and was one of the few ways people could access international media such as Deutsche Welle and CNN International.

In January of this year the Associate Press reported that the State Department was pressuring DIRECTV to discontinue Globovisión whose owner is sanctioned, and to re-establish transmission of CNN en Español and the BBC. It appears they only got the first part, through the wholesale departure of DIRECTV. This will leave most citizens dependent on open air television which is dominated by government channels.

This builds upon the continuing gasoline crisis exacerbated by the Trump administration’s decision in March to target the petroleum – gasoline swaps which Venezuela had been using to avoid sanctions and supply the domestic market.

A fleet of five Iranian oil tankers with at least $45 million worth of gasoline and other fuels is heading towards Venezuela in an effort to address the shortage. U.S. officials have suggested they are “looking at measures that can be taken,” and Iran has suggested the possibility of the U.S. Navy intercepting the tankers, and action has been encouraged by Guaidó government officials. It sent a letter to the United Nations and has warned the U.S. government that its threats would escalate further the tensions between Iran and the U.S.

  • Three U.N. independent experts demanded urged the United States to immediately lift sanctions that compound the already difficult situation in Venezuela.
  • The Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect recommended that UN member states “refrain from any measures that may further limit the population’s access to basic goods, essential services or humanitarian aid.”

Opposition

Two advisors implicated in the failed naval incursion, “Operation Gideon,” have resigned from the opposition’s strategy commission. Miami based political consultant J.J. Rendón and the exiled lawmaker Sergio Vergara signed a contract with private security company Silvercorp USA last September to pay for an operation that would capture Maduro and install Juan Guaidó as president.

The advisors’ resignation comes after days of unsuccessful crisis management from Guaidó and his team. After Primero Justicia–the largest party in the opposition coalition–called on Guaidó to fire the advisors and given an accounting of what happened, Guaidó provided denials that he was involved at all and suggested the Maduro government was to blame for the operation moving forward. His officials appear to be doubling-down on that narrative. Julio Borges even sent a letter to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutteres denouncing Maduro.

Despite the bravado there is widespread discontent within the coalition. Bloomberg reported that unidentified opposition politicians had contacted the U.S. State Department to emphasize the need for a change in leadership.

  • Sixty-eight Venezuelan civil society organizations released a statement (in Spanish and English) demanding a rectification by both the Guaidó and Maduro governments and a relaunch of the Oslo/Barbados negotiations.
  • In an extended interview Margarita López Maya suggested “the opposition needs to reflect and perhaps understand that its strategies have been too focused on the short term.”
  • Padre Virtuoso, S.J., rector the Catholic University suggested the opposition’s problems “are due to having left society as a spectator and having put political change in external variables above the action of the people.” He recommends seeking to reconnect

International Engagement

  • In El País David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey argued that the European Union should reactivate the International Contact Group and attempt to change the current direction of the conflict.
  • The European Union and the Spanish Government announced the realization of an online donors conference for Venezuelan migrants and refugees on the 26th of May 2020.
  • In ResponsibleStatecraft.org Geoff Ramsey argued that the failed military incursion was actually a good metaphor for the Trump adminstration’s Venezuela policy in general: “heavy on bravado, saber-rattling, and wishful thinking, and light on pragmatism and strategic focus.”

Coronavirus

  • Nicolas Maduro announced the extension of the state of emergency and that Venezuela’s airspace would remain closed until the 12th of June.
  • The opposition’s leader, Juan Guaidó has criticized the extension of the quarantine and said that Maduro’s government does not help the citizens deal with the economic adversaries that sprung from the measures.
  • President of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello, threatened to take actions against Venezuela’s Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Science after they released a report regarding the probable evolution of coronavirus in the country.
  • Venezuela has reported 541 COVID-19 cases and ten deaths from the virus so far.
  • The Acting Administrator of USAID, John Barsa, said that Nicolás Maduro impedes United States large-scale aid destined to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The U.N. says that urgent global support is needed for Venezuelan refugees and migrants as the pandemic exposes them to even more significant hardships. Nevertheless, the response plan remains dangerously underfunded, having received 0only four percent of the required funds.
  • A group of indigenous, social, and Catholic organizations released a statement calling attention to the situation indigenous communities are facing during the pandemic.

Economy

  • The Guaidó government is on the verge of losing U.S. based Citgo as Canadian mining firm Crystallex seeks to collect on its debt by taking control of it. The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review the decision of a lower court.