Venezuela Weekly: Trump Shout-out Calms Guaidó Critics

Juan Guaidó was a special guest at U.S. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on February 4, invited to watch the event from the box of the first lady. In his speech, Trump called Juan Guaidó “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela” saying he is “a very brave man who carries with him the hopes and aspirations of all Venezuelans.” Trump also suggested that “Maduro’s grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken.” These statements provided one of the few moments of bipartisan applause during the speech.

Trump’s shout-out caps a week of speculation regarding his support for Guaidó. He did not meet with Guaidó in the Davos Economic Forum, nor last weekend when Guaidó was in Miami. The White House’s announcement earlier in the day that it would be Guaidó’s Commissioner of Security Iván Simonovis unleashed a wave of social media criticism of Guaidó from Venezuela’s radical opposition, who suggested that he had lost Trump’s support for being too soft.

Just as important was what Trump did not say about Venezuela. He did not mention the “military option” that has so divided the Venezuelan opposition over the past two years. Nor did he mention “temporary protected status” for Venezuelans in the United States.

There are reports that Trump will meet with Guaidó today in the Whitehouse.

More International

  • The Guaidó-led National Assembly unanimously approved an agreement in support of the reelection of Luis Almagro as Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS).
  • Nicolas Maduro said he was willing to re-establish consular relations with neighboring Colombia after Venezuelan police detained a fugitive Colombian former senator residing in Venezuela. Colombia rejected Maduro’s proposal and announced that it would request the senator’s extradition via Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Venezuela this week, showing Moscow’s efforts to counter-balance U.S. pressure on the Maduro’s government.

Military

  • Maduro’s National Constituent Assembly passed a new law that makes some significant changes in the Armed Forces, the most important of which is the naming of the civilian militia as a fifth branch. Many analysts are critical of the new law, with some portraying it as a fatal blow to the Armed Forces.
  • Defense minister Vladimir Padrino López welcomed the incorporation of the Bolivarian Militia saying it will consolidate the country’s defenses.

Human Rights

  • The Maduro government blocked the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights from visiting the country. Members of the Commission were banned from boarding the flight from Panama City to Caracas. Instead, they announced that they would head to the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, to “gather and document testimonies from victims and family members about the serious human rights violations” in Venezuela.

Humanitarian Aid

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Maduro government signed an agreement to expand and strengthen humanitarian activities in the country.
  • Red Cross Venezuela announced that it received 42 tons of humanitarian aid in the last days of January.

 Migration

  • Venezuelans led all countries in asylum applications in Spain during 2019. Of 40,906 Venezuelan applications, Spain granted asylum to 39,667 for humanitarian reasons.
  • Colombia will allow qualified Venezuelan migrants to legalize their presence in the country through work permits. United Nations High Commission on Refugees welcomed the Colombian government’s announcement, estimating that more than 100,000 Venezuelans will benefit from the decision.

 Economy

  • The government and banking sector are trying to catch up with the de facto dollarization of the economy. The National Constituent Assembly modified Venezuela’s tax structure and included an extra sales tax on purchases of goods using foreign currency. The new tax oscillates between 5% and 25% on top of the standard 16% VAT. However, it is unclear how the new tax will be collected as Venezuela’s businesses give receipts in the local currency. The banking sector is increasingly offering storage in vaults for the millions of dollars and euros in circulation.
  • Inflation was 9,585.5% in 2019 according to figures issued by the Central Bank of Venezuela, significantly down from the 2018 inflation that was 130,060.2%. This figure is actually higher than the estimate of the National Assembly which put it at 7,374.4%.
  • Trinidad and Tobago has cancelled an agreement with Venezuela for the joint development of a natural gas project, because of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA.