Nicolas Maduro

The corner stone on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the financial district in New York
The corner stone on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the financial district in New York City, U.S., March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

April 19, 2019

By Luc Cohen and Corina Pons

CARACAS (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions on Venezuela have led the New York Federal Reserve to crack down on Puerto Rico’s $50 billion offshore banking industry, according to four sources and a document seen by Reuters.

The development will prevent the island’s offshore banks, several of which are owned by citizens of crisis-stricken Venezuela, from opening accounts with the Fed that give them direct access to the U.S. financial system.

Offshore banks in Puerto Rico are able to open accounts with the Fed since the island is a U.S. territory. That gives them a competitive advantage over other offshore banking jurisdictions like the British Virgin Islands, which have to access the U.S. financial system through expensive third-party correspondent banks.

But in a previously unreported Feb. 27 letter, the New York Fed said it had halted approval of new accounts for Puerto Rican offshore banks and other financial institutions “in light of recent events, including the expansion of U.S. economic sanctions relating to Venezuela.”  

It plans stricter requirements for the opening of such accounts in the future, it said.

It did not give further details on why it was taking that step. But the move follows two Puerto Rican offshore banks that have accounts open with the New York Fed being mentioned in federal investigations into money laundering and sanctions evasion related to Venezuela.

“The Fed worries about its reputational exposure, just like anybody else does,” said David Murray, a vice president at the Washington-based Financial Integrity Network and a former Treasury Department official.

A spokeswoman for the New York Fed did not respond to requests for comment.

The decision will only affect Puerto Rican banks that had pending applications with the Fed and will not affect the 17 of Puerto Rico’s 80 offshore banks that the Fed’s website shows already have Fedwire accounts. Reuters was unable to determine how many banks were awaiting responses on their applications to open accounts.

The move to suspend account approvals shows how U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, which are meant to force socialist President Nicolas Maduro from office amid a political crisis and an economic meltdown, are having a ripple effect in other parts of the global financial system.

It could deal a blow to Puerto Rico, which has been using the offshore sector as an economic development strategy as it struggles with a crushing debt load and the impact of natural disasters such as 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

The island has for years nurtured its offshore banking sector by offering tax incentives to bank owners and promoting direct access to the U.S. financial system through the Fed rather than correspondent banks, which charge for their services and can end the relationship at a moment’s notice.

Offshore banking lets individuals and companies deposit money outside their countries of residence in order to legally lower tax bills, but criminal investigations and multilateral organizations have alleged it is also used for tax evasion and money laundering.

The notice also applies to U.S. Virgin Islands offshore banks. Both territories fall under the jurisdiction of the Fed’s New York branch.

‘WE SHARE IT ALL’

George Joyner, the commissioner of Puerto Rico’s banking regulator, declined to say how many of the territory’s offshore banks had applications pending with the Fed. He said the island regulator used the same standards as federal authorities including the Fed to supervise financial institutions, and that anti-money laundering was a “high focus.”

“Our office fully shares everything that we find in our examinations, and we share it with all the federal agencies,” Joyner said in a telephone interview.

He said “a number” of Puerto Rican offshore banks had been created with Venezuelan capital, without elaborating.

The Virgin Islands’ director of banking and insurance did not respond to requests for comment.

Sixteen of Puerto Rico’s 80 offshore banking and financial services firms are owned by Venezuelan individuals or companies, according to a Reuters review of their websites, corporate registry records, and directors’ LinkedIn pages and personal websites.

Several marketed directly to Venezuelan clients, or had past deals with the Venezuelan government, while twelve of the sixteen had Fedwire accounts, according to the Federal Reserve’s website.

Fedwire, a funds transfer system controlled by the Fed, allows banks, businesses and government agencies to send and receive payments in real time.

VENEZUELA CONNECTIONS

In recent years, U.S. prosecutors have examined the role Puerto Rico’s offshore banks have played in efforts to launder Venezuelan funds through the United States. It was not clear if the two cases in question contributed to the New York Fed’s decision to halt the opening of new accounts, but one source at a Puerto Rican bank and industry consultant David Nissman said they were likely an important factor. Joyner said they “certainly didn’t help.”

Federal prosecutors in a sprawling corruption probe unsealed in July of 2018 charged Uruguayan national Marcelo Gutierrez with allegedly conspiring to launder funds embezzled from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA through a “bank in Puerto Rico” that he owned, according to criminal investigation filings in Florida federal court.

The prosecutors’ complaint does not identify the bank and says the transaction never took place.

Gutierrez’s LinkedIn profile lists him as a director at Vestin Bank International, which Puerto Rico banking regulator records show received a license to operate as an offshore operation on the island in 2015.

Vestin has since been acquired by Asia-focused Standard International Bank and Gutierrez has not been a shareholder since August of 2018, Standard said in a statement, adding that it had no links to Vestin’s prior business, no ties to Venezuela and no plans to enter the Venezuelan market.

Bruce Udolf, a Florida-based defense attorney for Gutierrez, said, “We expect to respond with a vigorous defense to those charges. We are hopeful that he will be vindicated at trial.”

In February, the FBI raided Puerto Rican offshore bank Banco San Juan International (BSJI) as part of a probe of money laundering and evasion of Venezuela-related sanctions, special agent Douglas Leff told reporters at the time. A spokesman for the FBI San Juan field office declined to provide further details.

In 2016, BSJI reached a $300 million credit agreement with PDVSA, according to PDVSA’s financial statements from that year.

BSJI also has an account with the Fed, according to Fed records.

In a statement, BSJI said it had complied with all U.S. sanctions and was cooperating with the FBI investigation.

The source at the bank in Puerto Rico, along with Joyner and Nissman, said most of the island’s offshore banks applied strict scrutiny on customers, and that the decision would punish an entire sector for the actions of a few bad actors.

“It just shuts your businesses down, and what did they do?” said Nissman, a former U.S. attorney for the U.S. Virgin Islands who drafted the territory’s offshore banking law, and now a Puerto Rico-based consultant. He said the Fed should evaluate applications on a “case-by-case basis.”

(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Corina Pons, Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Rosalba O’Brien)

Source: OANN

A view shows a helmet with the logo of Rosneft company in Vung Tau
FILE PHOTO – A view shows a helmet with the logo of Rosneft company in Vung Tau, Vietnam April 27, 2018. Picture taken April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

April 18, 2019

By Marianna Parraga

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – President Nicolas Maduro is funneling cashflow from Venezuelan oil sales through Russian state energy giant Rosneft as he seeks to evade U.S. sanctions designed to oust him from power, according to sources and documents reviewed by Reuters.

The sales are the latest sign of the growing dependence of Venezuela’s cash-strapped government on Russia as the United States tightens a financial noose around Maduro, who it describes as a dictator.

With its economy reeling from years of recession and a sharp decline in oil production, Venezuela was already struggling to finance imports and government spending before Washington imposed tough restrictions on state oil company PDVSA in January.

Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of exports from the OPEC nation and the lion’s share of government revenues. Maduro has accused U.S. President Donald Trump of waging economic war against Venezuela.

Since January, Maduro’s administration has been in talks with allies in Moscow about ways to circumvent a ban on clients paying PDVSA in dollars, the sources said. Russia has publicly said the U.S. sanctions are illegal and it would work with Venezuela to weather them.

Under the scheme uncovered by Reuters, Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has started passing invoices from its oil sales to Rosneft.

The Russian energy giant pays PDVSA immediately at a discount to the sale price – avoiding the usual 30-to-90 day timeframe for completing oil transactions – and collects the full amount later from the buyer, according to the documents and sources.

“PDVSA is delivering its accounts receivable to Rosneft,” said a source at the Venezuelan state firm with knowledge of the deals, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Major energy companies such as India’s Reliance Industries Ltd – PDVSA’s largest cash-paying client – have been asked to participate in the scheme by paying Rosneft for Venezuelan oil, the documents show.

Rosneft, which has heavily invested in Venezuela under President Vladimir Putin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Venezuela’s oil ministry, its information ministry, which handles media for the government, and PDVSA did not respond to questions.

Asked about the transactions, a spokesperson for Reliance said it had made payments to Russia and Chinese companies for Venezuelan oil. The spokesperson said the payments were deducted from money owed by Venezuela to those countries, but did not provide further details.

“We are in active dialogue with the U.S. Department of State on our dealings on Venezuelan oil to remain compliant with U.S. sanctions,” the spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas, Nidhi Verma in New Delhi, Julia Payne in London; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Simon Webb,David Gaffen and Marguerita Choy)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Ricard is seen on labels at the Ricard manufacturing unit in Lormont, near Bordeaux
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Ricard is seen on labels at the Ricard manufacturing unit in Lormont, near Bordeaux, France February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

April 18, 2019

By Dominique Vidalon and Pascale Denis

PARIS (Reuters) – Drinks group Pernod Ricard is having regular and “courteous” talks with activist investor Elliott, although it is not necessarily meeting Elliott any more than it would with any other regular shareholder, the head of Pernod told Reuters.

“There is a regular dialogue between the teams, but we do not see them more than other shareholders. My ambition remains to deliver on our strategic plan, that’s my motto,” CEO Alexandre Ricard said in a telephone interview.

Pernod, which is the world’s second-biggest spirits group behind Diageo, is under pressure from New York hedge fund Elliott Management to improve profit margins and corporate governance.

In February, Pernod vowed to lift its margins and shareholder returns under a three-year plan that Elliott described as a first small step.

When asked about speculation that Pernod could sell the whole or part of its wine business, Ricard replied: “Pernod Ricard has the firm intention to continue to actively manage its portfolio, in terms of either selling or buying.”

Last month Bloomberg reported Pernod was considering the sale of its wine division, which includes Australian brand Jacob’s Creek and Spain’s Campo Viejo and makes roughly 5 percent of group sales.

Ricard, whose company makes Havana Club rum in Cuba, added he was “not worried” about Pernod’s business in Cuba, despite latest moves by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

The Trump administration is lifting a long-standing ban against U.S. citizens filing lawsuits against foreign companies that use properties seized by Cuba’s Communist government since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.

The major policy shift, which the State Department said could draw hundreds of thousands of legal claims worth tens of billion of dollars, is intended to intensify pressure on Havana at a time Washington is demanding an end to Cuban support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Pascale Denis; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

Source: OANN

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks next to Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel during their meeting at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas
FILE PHOTO: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks next to Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel, wearing a Venezuelan flag sash, during their meeting at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

April 17, 2019

By Zachary Fagenson, Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton

MIAMI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed new sanctions and other punitive measures on Cuba and Venezuela, seeking to ratchet up U.S. pressure on Havana to end its support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.

Speaking to a Cuban exile group in Miami, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said the United States was targeting Cuba’s military and intelligence services, including a military-owned airline, for additional sanctions and was tightening travel and trade restrictions against the island.

Bolton’s speech followed the State Department’s announcement on Wednesday that it was lifting a long-standing ban against U.S. citizens filing lawsuits against foreign companies that use properties seized by Cuba’s Communist government since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

President Donald Trump’s decision, which the State Department said could unleash hundreds of thousands of legal claims worth tens of billions of dollars, drew swift criticism from European and Canadian allies, whose companies have significant interests in Cuba.

The Cuban government, which could be hindered in attracting new foreign investment, denounced it as “an attack on international law.”

Taking aim at Venezuela, Bolton said the United States was also imposing sanctions on the country’s central bank to prohibit access to dollars by an institution he described as crucial to keeping Maduro in power. Bolton also announced new sanctions on Nicaragua.

In a state television address, Maduro called the sanctions “totally illegal.”

“Central banks around the world are sacred, all countries respect them,” Maduro said, adding that the central bank would “confront and defeat” the sanctions. “To me the empire looks crazy, desperate.”

While accusing Cuba of propping up Maduro with thousands of security force members in the country, Bolton also warned “all external actors, including Russia,” against deploying military assets to support the Venezuelan leader.

“The United States will consider such provocative actions a threat to international peace and security in the region,” Bolton said, noting that Moscow recently sent in military flights carrying 35 tons of cargo and a hundred personnel.

However, Cuba appears unlikely to be budged by demands to dump Maduro, a longtime ally of Havana, and Maduro has also shown little sign of losing the loyalty of his military despite tough oil-related U.S. sanctions on the OPEC nation.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel responded defiantly. “No one will rip the (fatherland) away from us, neither by seduction nor by force,” he said on Twitter. “We Cubans do not surrender.”

ROLLING BACK OBAMA-ERA DETENTE

Amid Venezuela’s political and economic crisis, opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency. The United States and most Western countries have backed Guaido as head of state. Maduro, backed by Cuba, Russia and China, has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet.

Bolton, a longtime Cuba hardliner, was frequently interrupted by applause in his address to veterans of the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion on the 58th anniversary of the failed operation to overthrow Castro. His speech was a sequel to one late last year branding Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua a “troika of tyranny.”

Bolton’s announcements included further measures to roll back parts of the historic opening to Cuba, an old Cold War foe, under his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The Obama administration’s approach, he said, “provided the Cuban regime with the necessary political cover to expand its malign influence.”

Among the Cuba measures announced by Bolton was reinstatement of limits on U.S. citizens sending remittances to Cuba at $1,000 per person per quarter. Remittances have surged since Obama started easing restrictions, becoming an important part of the economy and fueling growth of the private sector.

“Restricting remittances that can be sent to Cubans will directly hurt the Cuban people,” said Ben Rhodes, a former Obama adviser who negotiated the 2014 diplomatic breakthrough with Havana. “This is a shameful and mean-spirited policy.”

Bolton said the United States would also further restrict “non-family” travel to Cuba and cited military-owned Cuban airline Aerogaviota among five entities being added to the U.S. sanctions blacklist.

The Trump administration has previously sought to curtail Venezuela’s subsidized oil shipments to Cuba.

Also on Wednesday, Bolton announced sanctions on Nicaragua’s Bancorp, which he called a “slush fund,” and on Laureano Ortega, a son of President Daniel Ortega for what he described as “vast corruption.”

Trump’s toughened stance on Cuba as well as Venezuela and Nicaragua has gone down well among Cuban Americans in south Florida, an important voting bloc in a political swing state as he looks toward his re-election campaign in 2020.

Trump has added Cuba hawks to top posts. Bolton brought in Mauricio Claver-Carone, known as staunchly anti-Castro and an outspoken critic of Obama’s rapprochement with Havana, as his top Latin America adviser.

However, the risk, some former U.S. officials say, is that Trump’s team will overdo the targeting of Cuba in their anti-Maduro campaign and alienate some European and Latin American allies who have good relations with Havana but are also needed by Washington to maintain pressure on Venezuela.

Over the objections of key allies, Trump decided to allow a law that has been suspended since its creation in 1996 to be fully activated, permitting Cuban-Americans and other U.S. citizens to sue companies doing business in Cuba over property seized in decades past by the Cuban government.

Until now, Title III of the Helms-Burton Act had been fully waived by every president over the past 23 years.

Among the foreign companies heavily invested in Cuba are Canadian mining firm Sherritt International Corp and Spain’s Melia Hotels International SA. U.S. companies, including airlines and cruise companies, have forged business deals in Cuba since the easing of restrictions under Obama.

Toronto-based Sherritt said it would not be materially impacted by the Trump administration’s Helms-Burton decision and would continue to operate as usual focusing on meeting its nickel/cobalt production targets.

It was unclear, however, how Cuba property claims, some of which involve complex legal matters, will fare in U.S. courts.

The European Union said it will “consider all options at its disposal to protect its legitimate interests.”

Chrystia Freeland, minister of foreign affairs for Canada, which has coordinated with Washington on Venezuela, said: “Canada is deeply disappointed with today’s (U.S.) announcement.”

Kim Breier, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said a U.S. government commission has certified nearly 6,000 claims for property confiscated in Cuba with a current value of about $8 billion and that there could be up to 200,000 uncertified claims worth tens of billions of dollars if pursued.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami and Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Additional reporting by Makini Brice, David Alexander and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank in Havana; Philip Blenkinsop and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels; Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Deisy Buitrago and Luc Cohen in Caracas; writing by Matt Spetalnick; editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)

Source: OANN

The Trump administration on Wednesday intensified its crackdown on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, rolling back Obama administration policy and announcing new restrictions and sanctions against the three countries whose leaders national security adviser John Bolton dubbed the “three stooges of socialism.”

“The troika of tyranny — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — is beginning to crumble,” Bolton said in a hard-hitting speech near Miami on the 58th anniversary of the United States’ failed Bay of Pigs invasion of the island, an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

Bolton announced a new cap on the amount of money families in the United States can send their relatives in Cuba. The Obama administration had lifted limits on remittances, but the new limit will be $1,000 per person per quarter, Bolton said. Remittances to Cuba from the United States amounted to $3 billion in 2016, according to the State Department.

Bolton also announced that the U.S. was sanctioning the Central Bank of Venezuela, which the Trump administration says has been instrumental in propping up the embattled government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He also announced sanctions against financial services provider Bancorp, which he claimed is a “slush fund” for Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega.

“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fall: in Havana, in Caracas, and in Managua,” Bolton said in South Florida, which is home to thousands of exiles and immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

He said Obama administration policies gave the Cuban government “political cover to expand its malign influence” across the region, including in Venezuela. Cuba has trained Venezuelan security forces to repress civilians and support Maduro, Bolton said.

“Havana continues to prop up Maduro and help him sustain the brutal suffering of the Venezuelan people,” Bolton said. “As President Trump has said, Maduro is quite simply a ‘Cuban puppet.'”

“Thousands of Cuban doctors in Venezuela are being used as pawns by Maduro and his Cuban sponsors to support his brutal and oppressive reign.”

Bolton’s pledge to “never, ever abandon” the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua in their fight for freedom also might ring hollow in light of the historical events he sought to highlight at the event hosted by the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.

Many Cuban Americans to this day resent the late President John F. Kennedy for not deploying American troops at a critical moment in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Meanwhile, with the high stakes of the Cold War a fading memory, some critics of U.S. policy toward Venezuela worry that the Trump administration’s stance that all options are on the table, including a military one, to oust Maduro is an empty threat that will only serve to ignite the streets and geopolitical tensions with Russia, compounding the misery of Venezuelan citizens.

“Honoring one of U.S.’ greatest military fiascos from 60 years back suggests U.S. policy to Latin America owes more now to a perverse Cold War nostalgia than practical benefits for people of the region,” said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin American director for the International Crisis Group, a think tank headquartered in Brussels.

Bolton spoke just hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in Washington a new policy that allows lawsuits against foreign firms operating on properties Cuba seized from Americans after the 1959 revolution. The United States has enforced a trade blockade against Cuba since the early 1960s.

The announcement comes at a moment of severe economic weakness for Cuba, which is struggling to find enough cash to import basic food and other supplies following a drop in aid from Venezuela and a string of bad years in other key economic sectors.

Pompeo said he won’t renew a bar on litigation that has been in place for two decades, meaning that lawsuits can be filed starting on May 2 when the current suspension expires. The decision could cost dozens of Canadian and European companies tens of billions of dollars in compensation and interest.

Pompeo’s decision gives Americans the right to sue companies that operate out of hotels, tobacco factories, distilleries and other properties Cuba nationalized after Fidel Castro took power. It allows Cubans who became U.S. citizens years after their properties were taken to sue.

The Justice Department has certified roughly 6,000 claims as having merit, according to Kimberly Breier, the top U.S. diplomat for the Americas. Those claims have an estimated value of $8 billion: $2 billion in property and $6 billion in interest, she said. In addition, another 200,000 uncertified claims could run into the tens of billions of dollars, she said.

Breier said there would be no exceptions to the decision, which has already prompted stern responses from Canada and Europe as they have vowed to protect their businesses from lawsuits.

“European companies that are operating in Cuba will have nothing to worry about if they are not operating on properties taken from Americans,” she said.

The decision deals a severe blow to Havana’s efforts to draw foreign investment to the island and comes as Trump steps up pressure to Venezuela’s Maduro , who is holding power with help from other countries, including Cuba, China and Russia.

Spain, which has large investments in hotels and other tourism-related industries on the island, was the first to react. A senior government official told The Associated Press that Madrid would ask the European Union to challenge the U.S. move in the World Trade Organization.

Businesses from Canada, France and Great Britain among other countries also conduct business in properties nationalized after Castro took power.

Johana Tablada, Cuba’s deputy director of U.S. affairs, said on Twitter: “Before they try to euphorically ride a wave of wickedness and lies, they should take a dose of reality. The world has told John Bolton and the U.S. government to eliminate the criminal blockade against Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act” of 1996.

Countries with large investments in Cuba have ferociously protested the law.

“The extraterritorial application of the U.S. embargo is illegal and violates international law,” said Alberto Navarro, the European Union ambassador to Cuba. “I personally consider it immoral. For 60 years the only thing that’s resulted from the embargo is the suffering of the

Source: NewsMax Politics

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before a Senate foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State Department budget request in Washingto
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before a Senate foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State Department budget request in Washington, U.S. April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

April 17, 2019

By Lesley Wroughton and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is lifting a long-standing ban against U.S. citizens filing lawsuits against foreign companies that use properties seized by Cuba’s Communist government since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.

The major policy shift, which the State Department said could draw hundreds of thousands of legal claims worth tens of billion of dollars, is intended to intensify pressure on Havana at a time Washington is demanding an end to Cuban support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.

But President Donald Trump’s decision, which was quickly denounced by Cuba as “an attack on international law,” could also further strain economic relations with U.S. allies in Europe and Canada, whose companies have significant interests on the island.

“Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement,” Pompeo said at a news conference.

“Cuba’s behavior in the Western Hemisphere undermines the security and stability of countries throughout the region, which directly threatens United States national security interests,” he said.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, will discuss the administration’s decision in a speech on Wednesday in Miami, where he will also announce new sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, countries he has branded a “troika of tyranny,” a senior U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Trump decided to allow a law that has been suspended since its creation in 1996 to be fully activated, permitting Cuban-Americans and other U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies doing business in Cuba over property seized in decades past by the Cuban government.

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act had been fully waived by every president over the past 23 years due to opposition from the international community and fears it could create chaos in the U.S. court system with a flood of lawsuits.

“I strongly reject the announcement of State Secretary Pompeo,” Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a message on Twitter. “This is an attack on international law and the sovereignty of Cuba and third states. Aggressive escalation of #USA against #Cuba will fail.”

The move, which could deal a blow to the Cuban government’s efforts to attract foreign investment, marks a further step by Trump to roll back parts of the historic opening to Cuba, an old Cold War foe, under his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Pompeo said the Obama administration had played “a game of footsie with the Castros’ junta” and accused the Cuban government of widespread human rights abuses. “Detente with the regime has failed,” he told reporters.

PUSHBACK FROM EU, CANADA

Among the foreign companies heavily invested in Cuba are Canadian mining firm Sherritt International Corp and Spain’s Melia Hotels International SA. U.S. companies, including airlines and cruise companies, have forged business deals in Cuba since the easing of restrictions under Obama.

It was unclear, however, how such property claims, some of which involve complex legal matters, will fare in U.S. courts.

“The EU will consider all options at its disposal to protect its legitimate interests, including in relation to its WTO rights and through the use of the EU Blocking Statute,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a joint statement.

A joint EU-Canada statement said the U.S. move was “regrettable” and will have an “important impact on legitimate EU and Canadian economic operators in Cuba.”Kim Breier, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said the administration had been in close contact with allies in Europe and elsewhere before the Cuba decision and that a “vast number” of European firms operating there would not have any problems.

She said, however, that a U.S. government commission has certified nearly 6,000 claims for property confiscated in Cuba with a current value, including interest, of about $8 billion.

“There could be up to 200,000 uncertified claims … and that value could very easily be in the tens of billions of dollars,” Breier added. “It will depend on whether claimants decide to pursue legal cases or not.”

U.S. officials left no doubt that the Helms-Burton decision, which takes effect on May 2, is part of the Trump administration’s effort to force Cuba to abandon Maduro, something Havana has insisted it will not do.

Washington says Havana’s security and intelligence support is critical to Maduro’s grip on power amid Venezuela’s economic and political crisis.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency.

The United States and most Western countries have backed Guaido as head of state. Maduro, backed by Cuba, Russia, China and the Venezuela military, has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet who is seeking to foment a coup.

Trump’s toughened stance on Cuba as well as Venezuela has gone down well in the large Cuban-American community in south Florida, an important voting bloc in a political swing state as he looks toward his re-election campaign in 2020.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Sarah Marsh in Havana,Philip Blenkinsop and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels, Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Tom Brown)

Source: OANN

A worker directs trucks with logo of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) carrying humanitarian aid, at a warehouse where the aid will be stored, in Caracas
A worker directs trucks with logo of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) carrying humanitarian aid, at a warehouse where the aid will be stored, in Caracas, Venezuela, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

April 17, 2019

CARACAS (Reuters) – The first shipment of humanitarian aid from the Red Cross intended to alleviate a dire economic crisis in Venezuela arrived in the once-prosperous, oil-rich country on Tuesday, a representative of the organization and a lawmaker said.

The delivery came after an about-face by President Nicolas Maduro, who last week said his socialist government had reached an agreement with the Red Cross to bring aid. Maduro had blocked previous efforts to deliver assistance and has denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis.

“The International Red Cross today delivered its first batch of support for Venezuela, together with the revolutionary government that I lead, and it was received in a legal and orderly way, complying with international protocols,” Maduro said in a speech broadcast on state television.

There was little hope that the shipment – intended to help hospitals cope with shortages of equipment and frequent power outages – would be anything more than a palliative measure for Venezuela, where over three million people have fled the chaos of hyperinflation and chronic shortages of food and medicine.

But opposition lawmaker Miguel Pizarro said the lack of “interference” by Maduro’s government with the entry of aid was a positive step and that more shipments would arrive in the days ahead.

“The same people who had previously denied the arrival (of aid), who had previously brought this country to the verge of confrontation, are today complying with humanitarian principles,” Pizarro told reporters at the Congress, adding that the Red Cross would handle the logistics of distribution.

Venezuela was plunged into a political deadlock in January, when Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

Guaido has since been recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by most Western nations. Several countries, including the United States and neighboring Colombia, contributed to a February effort to deliver aid across Venezuela’s land borders, in the hopes soldiers would disavow Maduro’s orders to block it.

While that effort failed, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in late March it was prepared to start an aid operation.

Tuesday’s shipment, which arrived via airplane from Panama, included 14 power generators, 5,000 liters of distilled water, and three surgery equipment kits capable of serving 10,000 patients each, according to the Red Cross.

Mario Villarroel, the Red Cross’ president in Venezuela, said on Twitter that the materials would be distributed to hospitals around the country.

The United Nations estimates that a quarter of Venezuelans are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 1.9 million suffering from malnutrition and some 300,000 whose lives are at risk due to lack of medicine.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera, Shaylim Castro and Mayela Armas; writing by Luc Cohen; editing by G Crosse)

Source: OANN

Stepping up pressure on Cuba, President Donald Trump is poised to allow lawsuits against foreign companies that have benefited from Cuba’s seizure of American companies after the 1959 revolution, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

The move marks a change in more than two decades of U.S. policy on Cuba.

The 1996 Helms-Burton Act gave Americans the right to sue companies profiting from properties that Cuba confiscated. But every U.S. president since Bill Clinton has suspended the key clause because of fears of alienating U.S. allies and complicating relations with Cuba.

The official said going forward, there will be no more waivers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement.

The Trump administration had signaled plans to end the waivers. It’s taking the step in retaliation for Cuba’s support of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whom the U.S. is trying to oust in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaido.

National security adviser John Bolton is expected to discuss the new policy during a speech Wednesday in Miami, which is home to thousands of exiles and immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The speech at the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association is being delivered on the 58th anniversary of the United States’ failed 1961 invasion of the island, an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

Source: NewsMax Politics

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at a warehouse where international humanitarian aid for Venezuela is being stored, in Cucuta
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at a warehouse where international humanitarian aid for Venezuela is being stored, near La Unidad cross-border bridge between Colombia and Venezuela in Cucuta, Colombia April 14, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez 

April 15, 2019

BOGOTA (Reuters) – The United States will use all economic and political tools at its disposal to hold Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accountable for his country’s crisis and will make clear to Cuba and Russia they will pay a price for supporting him, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.

Pompeo made the comments in the Colombian border city of Cucuta, the final stop of a three-day trip to Chile, Paraguay and Peru, a clutch of fast-growing countries in a region where Washington’s concerns are focused on the Venezuelan crisis and China’s growing presence.

Maduro blames U.S. sanctions for the country’s economic problems and dismisses opposition leader Juan Guaido – who in January invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing the socialist leader’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate – as a U.S. puppet.

More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages and political crisis.

“The United States will continue to utilize every economic and political means at our disposal to help the Venezuelan people,” Pompeo said after visiting with migrants at a Cucuta shelter and touring border bridges and a warehouse storing humanitarian aid.

“Using sanctions, visa revocations and other means, we pledge to hold the regime and those propping it up accountable for their corruption and their repression of democracy.”

Cucuta receives a significant portion of Venezuelan migrants arriving in Colombia, many of whom come with only what they can carry.

Although most Western nations, including the United States, have recognized Guaido as interim head of state, Russia, China and Cuba have stood by Maduro.

“You watch the political and diplomatic noose tighten around Maduro’s neck,” Pompeo told reporters accompanying him on the trip before taking off for the United States.

“Cubans must understand too that there will be cost associated with continued support of Nicolas Maduro,” he said. “And we’re going to have that same conversation with the Russians as well.”

Washington has imposed a raft of sanctions against Maduro’s government in an attempt to dislodge him from power, but he retains the backing of the country’s military. On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department added four firms and nine ships to its blacklist, some of which it said carried oil to Cuba.

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President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said on Friday he would deliver a speech in Miami to Cuban exiles on Wednesday about actions the White House is taking on Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, countries he has called a “troika of tyranny.”

While no final decision has been made on punitive measures Bolton is expected to announce, the Trump administration has been considering a range of options, including new targeted sanctions and further tightening of business restrictions on the Communist-ruled island that had been eased by former President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Critics have warned that heavy sanctions on Venezuela could hurt ordinary Venezuelans.

Pompeo urged Maduro to leave his post and Venezuela so the country can return to normalcy.

“I hope that you will care now, when you see the horror, when you see the tragedy, to change your ways and to leave your country,” Pompeo said.

During his trip, Pompeo echoed previous U.S. criticism of China’s growing presence in Latin America, warning of “predatory” lending practices and “malign or nefarious” actions.

China, whose booming economy over the past two decades has driven up demand for raw materials, is already the top trade partner for nations from tiny Uruguay to Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy and the world’s top soybean exporter.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese and Peter Cooney)

Source: OANN

World Bank Group President David Malpass and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde at the IMF and World Bank's 2019 Annual Spring Meetings, in Washington
World Bank Group President David Malpass and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde at the IMF and World Bank’s 2019 Annual Spring Meetings, in Washington, U.S. April 13, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

April 13, 2019

By Rodrigo Campos

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund will not be able to help Venezuela deal with its economic crisis until a “large majority” of its members decide who to recognize as the country’s leader, the head of the global lender said on Saturday.

Managing Director Christine Lagarde said the IMF “can only be guided by the membership, so it’s not a question of us deciding” whether to help in the event that Venezuela’s government reaches out to the Fund.

“It has to be a large majority of the membership actually recognizing diplomatically the authorities that they regard as legitimate,” Lagarde said in a press conference at the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington.

Venezuela is mired in a deep economic crisis marked by widespread food and medicine shortages, while hyperinflation has all but rendered its currency worthless.

More than 50 mostly Western countries including the United States and Venezuela’s largest neighbors have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the South American nation’s leader.

Russia and others recognize Nicolas Maduro, the socialist president and successor to the late Hugo Chavez, as the legitimate head of state.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said separately on Saturday that he has had discussions with the IMF about the process for recognizing Guaido as Venezuela’s leader.

“There were discussions we had this week at the IMF about that, and what their process would be to do that,” he said.

Earlier this week Lagarde and World Bank President David Malpass said separately they are preparing to move quickly to help ease Venezuela’s worsening humanitarian crisis, but the leadership question is standing in the way.

Based on the countries which have publicly supported Guaido or Maduro and their voting weighting inside the World Bank and IMF, Guaido’s representative could get slightly more than 50 percent of a vote according to a Reuters tally. No such vote has yet been called for.

An estimated 3.7 million Venezuelans have left the oil-rich country to escape deteriorating social and economic conditions, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Additional reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Paul Simao)

Source: OANN


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