Venezuela in crisis: All the latest updates

Venezuelans and the world await the next moves by two adversaries maneuvering for an edge in the power struggle.

    Venezuela has plunged into a major political crisis amid a growing row over President Nicolas Maduro's future as the country's leader. 

    Maduro started a second term on January 10, following a widely boycotted election last year that many foreign governments refused to recognise.

    On January 23, Juan Guaido, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself interim president.

    Shortly after Guaido took an oath swearing himself in, US President Donald Trump publicly recognised him as the country's leader. 

    Maduro accused Guaido of staging a coup and ordered his arrest.

    Here are all the latest updates as of Tuesday, April 16:

    First Red Cross aid delivery arrives in Venezuela

    The first shipment of humanitarian aid from the Red Cross arrived in Venezuela on Tuesday, delivering medicine and supplies for needy patients in a country whose president has long denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis.

    Workers in blue vests helped load boxes with the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies emblem onto trucks while leaders with the organisation pleaded for officials to keep the aid out of the nation's political dispute.

    "It will be distributed in conformance with the fundamental principles of our movement, especially neutrality, impartiality and independence," said Mario Villarroel, president of the Venezuelan Red Cross. "Don't allow the politicisation of this great achievement."

    Monday, April 15

    Foreign intelligence services should exit Venezuela: Lima Group

    The Lima Group regional bloc on Monday called for the exit of foreign security and intelligence forces from Venezuela and reiterated its rejection of the use of military force in the crisis-stricken South American nation.

    Lima Group urges UN to 'take action' over Venezuela crisis

    The Lima Group made up of mostly Latin American countries called on the United Nations on Monday to "take action" to prevent an escalation of Venezuela's humanitarian crisis.

    The group of 14 countries, which also includes Canada, exhorted UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the General Assembly and the Security Council to "take measures to avoid the progressive deterioration of peace and security, and to provide urgent humanitarian aid to the population of migrants coming from Venezuela."

    Venezuela accuses Canada of supporting Trump's 'war adventure'

    Venezuela accused Canada of supporting US President Donald Trump's "war adventure" after Ottawa announced new sanctions on top officials in President Nicolas Maduro's government.

    In a statement, Venezuela's foreign ministry said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "has invalidated Canada as a reliable actor in dialogue". 

    "It's alliance with war criminals that have declared their intention to destroy the Venezuelan economy to inflict suffering on the people and loot the country's riches demonstrates the hypocritical attitude of the Ottawa government in its pretentious concern for human rights," the foreign ministry said. 

    Canada hit Venezuela with fresh sanctions

    Canada announced new sanctions against 43 members of Maduro's government, including Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, whom it holds "responsible for the deteriorating situation" in the crisis-wracked South American country.

    The sanctions included a freeze on the individuals' assets and a ban on them conducting business with Canada, which previously sanctioned another 70 top government officials.

    Pompeo: US says it will hold Maduro accountable for crisis

    The US secretary of state in the Columbian border town of Cucuta on Sunday said the US will continue to pressure Maduro, and use "every economic and political means ... to help the Venezuelan people". 

    "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," Mike Pompeo said.

    Pompeo met with Venezuelan refugees and called on Maduro to open the border to let aid through and to step down as president. 

    In his last stop on a four-country tour in Latin America he said Russia and Cuba would pay a price for supporting Maduro.

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Venezuelan refugees in La Parada near Cucuta, Colombia on Sunday. [Fernando Vergara/AP]


     

    Thursday, April 11

    Pompeo: China financing of Maduro prolongs Venezuela crisis

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China's financing of President Nicolas Maduro's government is prolonging the crisis in Venezuela.

    Pompeo kicked off a four-country tour of Latin America on Friday in Chile. He met with President Sebastian Pinera in Santiago, where they discussed Venezuela's crisis and the US-China trade war, among other issues.

    Pompeo said China is a major US trading partner, but that its "trade activities often are deeply connected to their national security mission, their technological goals, their desire to steal intellectual property, to have forced technology transfer, to engage in activity that is not economic."

    Colombia gets $31.5m for hosting Venezuelan migrants

    The international community is providing a $31.5m grant to help Colombia accommodate Venezuelan migrants and refugees as well as the communities that host them.

    The funds provided by the Global Concessional Financing Facility - a platform launched in 2016 by the World Bank, the United Nations and the Islamic Development Bank- will be part of a $750m development policy operation being prepared by the World Bank to support Colombia.

    The World Bank said in a press release that the annual cost of hosting more than 1.2 million migrants and refugees from Venezuela is currently estimated at around 0.4 percent of Colombia's economic output.

    US sanctions companies sending Venezuelan oil to Cuba

    The US Treasury on Friday unveiled financial sanctions on four maritime shipping companies and nine of their oil tankers over crude deliveries to Cuba, to pressure Havana to end support for Venezuela.

    The sanctions raise US pressure on the "the illegitimate regime of former President Nicolas Maduro", the Treasury said in a statement.

    The US sanctions targeted three Liberian shipping corporations and one based in Italy. Of the nine tankers penalised, four had delivered Venezuelan crude to Cuba. The sanctions freeze US-based assets of the company and also block them from much of the global financial system.

    Thursday, April 11

    IMF, WB ready to respond to Venezuelan humanitarian crisis

    The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) have said they are ready to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela once their participation is requested.

    But President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez have shunned the two international lending agencies, which they accuse of imposing damaging austerity policies on nations they aid.

    Washington to decide on Repsol's Venezuela activity: US envoy

    The United States will make a decision about Spanish oil company Repsol's activity in Venezuela in coming days, US Venezuela envoy Elliott Abrams said on Thursday.

    Since the US imposed fresh sanctions on Venezuela and its state-run oil firm PDVSA in January, the country's main oil and oil products suppliers have been Repsol, Russian state oil major Rosneft, India's Reliance Industries and trading houses Vitol and Trafigura, according to sources and vessel-tracking data.

    Repsol has said it fully complies with all legislation and sanctions regarding Venezuela and closely monitors the situation on a cargo-by-cargo basis.

    Wednesday, April 10

    Red Cross tripling budget for work in Venezuela

    The International Committee of the Red Cross will triple its budget in Venezuela this year as it helps authorities address mounting humanitarian concerns in the politically turbulent nation.

    The trip took him to several public hospitals, slums and migrant centres that have seen the worst of a social crisis expected to worsen as US financial sanctions take effect.

    Red Cross President Peter Maurer said his Geneva-based organisation is tripling its budget this year in Venezuela to around $24m and almost doubling its staff to around 180 people.

    Pence says US wants Maduro out and 'all options' on table

    US Vice President Mike Pence told the Security Council on Wednesday that the Trump administration is determined to restore democracy to Venezuela, preferably through diplomatic and economic pressure, but "all options are on the table" - and Russia and others need to step aside.

    Venezuela's UN Ambassador Samuel Moncada said the country is threatened with war by the Trump administration, "and the ground is being laid for an invasion". He told the council: "We must stop this war of Donald Trump".

    The United States called an emergency meeting of the UN's most powerful body, which is deeply divided over Venezuela, to focus on the worsening humanitarian situation in Venezuela.

    IMF: No transactions with Venezuela while leadership in doubt

    The International Monetary Fund will not have any contact with Venezuela, nor allow the country to access its reserves held by the institution, until the international community recognises a government in Caracas, an IMF spokesman said on Wednesday.

    The country's leadership has been in question since late January when national assembly leader Juan Guaido challenged embattled President Nicolas Maduro as the country's acute economic crisis worsened.

    US wants UN to revoke credentials of Maduro's government

    US Vice President Mike Pence called on the United Nations on Wednesday to revoke the UN credentials of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government and recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate leader.

    He said the United States had drafted a UN resolution and called on all states to support it.

    Read more here.

    Maduro government a threat to US national security: Pompeo

    President Nicolas Maduro's government in Venezuela poses a threat to the United States, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, referring to the increased involvement of Russia, Iran and Cuba in the country.

    "I don't think there is any doubt that ... the Maduro regime presents a threat to the United States of America," Pompeo told a US congressional hearing.

    The Trump administration has said that Maduro has surrounded himself with Cuban security and intelligence officials, and told Moscow to withdraw some 100 Russian troops that arrived in Venezuela in March.

    US wants UN to revoke credentials of Maduro's government

    US Vice President Mike Pence called on the United Nations on Wednesday to revoke the UN credentials of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government and recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate leader.

    He said the United States had drafted a UN resolution and called on all states to support it.

    Diplomats said it is unlikely Washington will get the support needed to adopt such a measure.

    Crucial oil output plunges in Venezuela

    OPEC says Venezuela pumped 960,000 barrel of oil a day in March, a one-third drop from the previous month in a country enduring US oil sanctions and nationwide blackouts.

    The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries announced the figures in a monthly report that was released on Wednesday.

    Venezuela's oil output has been in decline and it pumped about three times as much oil two decades ago.

    UN official sees increasing crisis in Venezuela

    UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said Venezuela's humanitarian problem has worsened and "the scale of need is significant and growing" - with seven million people representing 25 percent of the population needing humanitarian aid.

    Lowcock told a Security Council meeting called by the United States on Wednesday that the UN is working to expand humanitarian aid, but that much more is needed.

    He said there's "a need to separate political and humanitarian objectives" and urged the council's support "to safeguard the neutral and impartial nature of humanitarian action".

    Red Cross regains entry to Venezuela jails, military prisons

    The International Committee of the Red Cross has regained access to prisons in Venezuela, including highly guarded military facilities where dozens of inmates considered political prisoners are being held, as President Nicolas Maduro seeks to counter mounting criticism of his government's human rights record.

    The fact that the visits include military prisons, which hadn't been previously reported, was confirmed to The Associated Press by a human rights lawyer and family members of those detained.

    International Red Cross President Peter Maurer met with Maduro on Tuesday night as he wraps up a five-day visit to Venezuela, where the Geneva-based group is among international organisations trying to carve out a space to deliver badly needed humanitarian aid and technical assistance free of the winner-take-all politics contributing to the country's turmoil.

    UN urged to declare Venezuela a humanitarian emergency

    Human Rights Watch and public health researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine are urging the United Nations to declare the situation in Venezuela "a complex humanitarian emergency that poses a serious risk to the region".

    They appealed to the Security Council ahead of its meeting on Wednesday on Venezuela's humanitarian crisis to ask Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to make a declaration because their research shows severe medicine and food shortages in Venezuela, and disease spreading across its borders.

    Maduro says Venezuela ready to receive international aid

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said his country was ready to receive international aid following a meeting with the Red Cross chief, as the Latin American nation plunged into a new round of blackouts.

    "We confirm our readiness to establish cooperation mechanisms for international assistance and support," Maduro said on Twitter on Tuesday.

    Read more here.

    Tuesday, April 9

    OAS recognises Guaido appointee as Venezuela representative

    The Organization of American States' Permanent Council on Tuesday recognised Gustavo Tarre as representative of Venezuela until new elections are held in the South American country.

    Tarre was appointed by opposition leader Juan Guaido, who in January declared himself Venezuela's interim president and has vowed to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.

    The Council decided to "accept the appointment of Mr Gustavo Tarre as the National Assembly's designated representative, pending new elections and the appointment of a democratically elected government" according to the resolution adopted by 18 votes in favour, nine against and six abstentions.

    El Salvador president-elect to snub Ortega, Maduro

    Incoming El Salvador president Nayib Bukele will not invite regional counterparts Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Honduras' Juan Orlando Hernandez to his June 1 inauguration, a top aide said on Tuesday.

    "They're not going to be invited. El Salvador, in the next government, will be part of a group of democratic countries that believe in elections, in states where the people have to elect their governments in a democratic way," said Federico Anliker, secretary general of Bukele's New Ideas party.

    UN refugee chief urges open doors for Venezuelans

    The UN refugee chief is appealing to Latin American countries to "keep the doors open and diminish the restrictions imposed on Venezuelans" seeking refuge.

    UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the Security Council on Tuesday that 3.5 million Venezuelans have left the country and about 15 countries have received them - primarily Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.

    He urged increased support for those countries, saying, "our appeal for the humanitarian crisis in that region is one of the most poorly funded globally".

    Venezuela removes 8 tonnes of gold from central bank: Sources

    Venezuela removed eight tonnes of gold from the central bank's vaults last week, and the cash-strapped socialist state is expected to sell the bullion abroad as it seeks to raise hard currency in the face of US sanctions, a politician and one government source told Reuters news agency.

    With sanctions imposed by Washington choking off revenues from exports by state oil company PDVSA, President Nicolas Maduro's increasingly isolated administration has turned to sales of Venezuela's substantial gold reserves as one of the only sources of foreign currency.

    The government source said the Central Bank's reserves had fallen by 30 tonnes since the start of the year before US President Donald Trump tightened sanctions, leaving the bank with around 100 tonnes in its vaults, worth more than $4bn.

    Monday, April 8

    Pompeo to visit Venezuela border on South America tour

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to the Venezuela border in Colombia to highlight the plight of refugees during a four-nation trip to Latin America, the State Department announced on Monday.

    Pompeo will pay a brief visit on Sunday to the Colombian city of Cucuta after stops in Chile, Paraguay and Peru - all four countries led by right-wing or center-right leaders favourable to the tough US approach on Venezuela.

    In Cucuta, Pompeo will "visit entities supporting Venezuelan refugees and assess the challenges due to the closed border," the State Department said in a statement.

    Iranian delegation travels to Venezuela to discuss direct flight route

    An Iranian delegation landed in Venezuela on Monday to discuss launching direct flights between the two countries, Venezuela's foreign minister said, as Tehran voices support for President Nicolas Maduro against the opposition backed by most Western countries.

    A plane belonging to Mahan Air, a private Iranian airline accused by the West of transporting military equipment to Middle East war zones, landed in Caracas on Monday, as the two countries planned on discussing launching a direct flight "in the coming months", Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters.

    A White House official said the US government viewed the launch of direct flights as a "politically motivated gesture".

    The nonstop Tehran-Caracas flight would take 16 hours.

    Venezuela pledges to honor oil commitments to Cuba despite sanctions

    Venezuela will "fulfill its commitments" to Cuba despite US sanctions targeting oil shipments from the South American country to its ideological ally, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on Monday.

    Washington on Friday imposed sanctions on 34 vessels owned or operated by state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela as well as on two companies and a vessel that have previously delivered oil to Cuba, aiming to choke off a crucial supply of crude to the Communist-run island.

    Venezuela has long sent subsidised crude to Cuba. The US describes the arrangement as an "oil-for-repression" scheme in which Havana helps socialist President Nicolas Maduro weather an economic crisis and power struggle with the opposition in exchange for fuel.

    Brazil's Bolsonaro says working with US to sow 'dissent' in Venezuela army

    Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday he is working with the US government to sow dissent within the Venezuelan Army.

    Bolsonaro, during an interview with Jovem Pan radio, said that if there is a military invasion in Venezuela, he would seek the counsel of Brazil's National Defense Council and Congress on what, if any, action his country should take.

    "We cannot allow Venezuela to become a new Cuba or North Korea," the right-wing president said.

    Bolsonaro said that if any military intervention actually deposed Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, it is quite likely that the country would see guerrilla warfare waged by Maduro's diehard backers and whomever took power.

    Iranian carrier begins direct flights to Venezuela

    Iran's second largest airline has begun direct flights to Venezuela, as the two countries cultivate closer ties in the face of US sanctions.

    Iran's official IRNA news agency says Mahan airline's first flight to Venezuela left Tehran on Monday carrying a Foreign Ministry delegation.

    The United States blacklisted Mahan in 2011 after accusing it of providing support to the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

    Saturday, April 6

    'Stop the attacks' Maduro urges opponents

    Venezuela's socialist President Nicolas Maduro said on Saturday a new electrical system would be "consolidated within 30 days" and called for international support for a national dialogue with the opposition.

    Speaking to a massive crowd of supporters in Caracas, Maduro said the government was moving at a good pace to "consolidate the stability of a new electrical system for service for the people".

    Maduro also made a new call for dialogue towards reaching peace in Venezuela with help from the fellow Latin American countries, including Mexico and Uruguay.

    Venezuelans take to the streets as power struggle persists

    Supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro are once again poured into the streets of Caracas, the latest rival rallies to be held in the capital amid a protracted political crisis and rising anger over blackouts that have left millions without electricity and water.

    Juan Guaido, the self-proclaimed interim president and leader of the National Assembly, has asked his supporters not to get used to living in "darkness" while blaming high-level corruption and mismanagement under Maduro for the electricity outages.

    Guaido has also held the government responsible for an exodus of people from the oil-rich country.

    Read more.

    Friday, April 5

    US adds two companies, 34 vessels to Venezuela sanctions list

    The United States has added two oil-sector companies and 34 vessels to a sanctions list aimed at forcing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down.

    A Treasury Department announcement said the companies and vessels are being used to ship fuel to Cuba or in other aspects of the oil industry and help support the Maduro government.

    The US imposed sanctions on Venezuela's oil industry in January to cut off the government's most important source of revenue.

    Swiss sign agreement to protect US interests in Venezuela 

    Switzerland and the United States signed an agreement on Friday for the neutral country to represent US interests in Venezuela, which broke off diplomatic relations with Washington after it recognised the opposition leader as president.

    The mandate, signed by Switzerland's foreign minister and the US ambassador to Switzerland in Berne, should help defuse tensions between the US and Venezuela, the Swiss government said, but first Venezuela must agree to let Switzerland take on the role.

    Switzerland currently represents US interests in Iran and previously also represented its interests in Cuba.

    US renews call on Russian personnel to leave Venezuela

    The Trump administration is renewing calls for Moscow to withdraw its military personnel from Venezuela, where they are helping prop up embattled President Nicolas Maduro.

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Friday that he's seen no signs the Russian personnel were leaving and that Moscow's involvement might "get worse before it gets better".

    The Kremlin has rejected US calls for Moscow to withdraw, saying US troops are in many parts of the world and no one is telling the US where it should or shouldn't be.

    Thursday, April 4

    Venezuelans struggle to find water in the aftermath of blackouts

    Weeks of power cuts in Venezuela have further crippled an already fragile infrastructure, creating widespread water shortages hampering basic services.

    Power has been restored in many areas but it is being rationed, and without electricity to run pumps there is not enough water in many areas. 

    Click here to read more.

    Venezuela FM says seeking to avoid Syria-style conflict

    Venezuela's top diplomat said on Thursday his government was seeking to avoid a Syria-style civil war during a visit to long-time ally Damascus.

    Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza accused the United States of fuelling the conflict, but said his government would rely on diplomacy to avoid a full-blown war.

    "When President Assad described the stages before and the stages during the early days of the war on Syria, similarities with what we are experiencing in Venezuela were immediately noticeable," he said during a joint press conference with his Syrian counterpart.

    We have "the same enemy with the same interests", he said, referring to the US. "With the help of our friends, we have to avoid war, to stop the war," he added.

    Venezuelan deputy minister says more Russian troops could arrive

    Venezuela's Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Gil said on Thursday he does not rule out that more Russian military personnel may arrive in Venezuela under agreements already concluded with Russia, Interfax news agency reported.

    The deputy minister also said Russian forces will stay in Venezuela as long as needed, and that there is no set period for their stay.

    "The group of military specialists is [in Venezuela] in the context of our agreements and contracts for military-technical cooperation," Interfax quoted Gil as saying.

    EU condemns Venezuelan efforts to prosecute Guaido

    European Union governments condemned on Thursday a measure by Venezuela's Constituent Assembly that allows for the trial of opposition leader Juan Guaido.

    "The EU rejects the decision taken by the non-recognised National Constituent Assembly to lift Juan Guaido's parliamentary immunity. This decision constitutes a serious violation of the Venezuelan constitution, as well as of the rule of law and separation of power," the EU said in a statement.

    "These acts undermine a political way out of the crisis and only lead to further polarisation and escalation of tensions in the country," the statement said.

    Wednesday, April 3

    Venezuela classes restart after weeks of blackouts

    Classes resumed in Venezuela's schools on Wednesday after two major national blackouts forced the education ministry to extend the school year.

    Two major nationwide power outages led the government to cancel classes across the country.

    Education Minister Aristobulo Isturiz said classes, which usually end at the beginning of July, would continue until the end of that month, state-run news agency AVN reported.

    Colombia President warns of action if Guaido arrested

    Colombia's President Ivan Duque said on Wednesday that if Venezuela's opposition leader, Juan Guaido, was arrested by the Venezuelan government it would be a serious mistake.

    Speaking at an event for business leaders in Bogota, Duque stated that it would be "a serious break of order".

    "We consider his detention by the dictatorship and the criminal persecution warrants a clear rejection and very firm multilateral action to re-establish order in Venezuela," he said.

    Loyalists of President Nicolas Maduro stripped Guaido of immunity on Tuesday, paving the way for the opposition leader's prosecution and potential arrest for supposedly violating the constitution when he declared himself interim president.

    US senators propose more aid, international sanctions for Venezuela

    Keeping up pressure for political change in Venezuela, a bipartisan group of 15 US senators introduced bipartisan legislation on Wednesday to provide $400m in new aid, internationalise sanctions and ease penalties on officials who recognise a new government.

    The Venezuelan Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance and Development (VERDAD) Act would provide $200m in new aid for Venezuela and $200m for neighbouring countries taking in refugees.

    It would also revoke US visas for relatives of sanctioned Venezuelans, remove sanctions on officials not involved in human rights abuses if they recognise self-declared interim president Juan Guaido, and require work with Latin American and European governments to implement their own sanctions.

    US working on rescue, restructuring plan for Venezuela

    White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Wednesday said the United States has plans to rapidly revitalise the Venezuelan economy, including financial and food planning as well as getting cash to people in the country.

    The rescue and restructuring plan for Venezuela would involve getting dollars into the country, and the US is working with banks in the region to help, Kudlow told reporters at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor news outlet.

    Venezuelan FM visits anti-US allies in Middle East

    Venezuela's foreign minister, meeting with anti-US allies in the Middle East, said on Wednesday that opposition leader Juan Guaido is in breach of the constitution and that the judiciary has to "take care" of it.

    Jorge Arreaza met Lebanon's president and foreign minister in Beirut. He is expected to meet an official from the Hezbollah group before travelling onward to Syria.

    Maduro's government has warm relations with Syria and its allies in Lebanon.

    Tuesday, April 2

    Venezuela's Guaido recognises risk of arrest

    Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has said he knows he runs the risk of being arrested for pushing to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.

    But a defiant Guaido said on Tuesday that he is undeterred.

    The 35-year-old opposition leader spoke publicly moments after an assembly loyal to Maduro stripped him of his immunity from prosecution.

    "That the regime intends to kidnap us? Well, of course. We know that all they have left is brute force, we know that. But we have audacity, intelligence, soul, strength, heart, hope, trust in this country, in ourselves," he said.

    Guaido stripped of immunity

    Venezuelan politicians have stripped Juan Guaido of immunity, paving way for the opposition leader's prosecution and potential arrest for supposedly violating the constitution when he declared himself interim president.

    "[Guaido's prosecution] is officially authorised," Diosdado Cabello, head of the Maduro-loyal Constituent Assembly said following an assembly vote on Tuesday.

    Pence calls for release of Americans held in Venezuela

    Vice President Mike Pence called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to immediately release six American oil executives who have been jailed for more than a year without trial, but he acknowledged that their freedom will be slow to come as long as Maduro remains in power.

    "The United States today calls for the immediate release of these six individuals," Pence said at a White House meeting with relatives of those who have been held for nearly 18 months while the Venezuelan government has postponed multiple court hearings in the case.

    Pence said the five US citizens and one legal permanent US resident, all with roots in Texas and Louisiana, are being "illegally detained".

    The men, all employees of Houston-based Citgo, a longtime US subsidiary of the Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA, were summoned to Caracas in November 2017 for a last-minute budget meeting but were arrested and charged with embezzlement stemming from a never-executed proposal to refinance some $4bn in Citgo bonds. 

    Venezuelans break police blockade along border with Colombia 

    Authorities in Colombia are warning of potential unrest at a border crossing with Venezuela after droves of migrants broke through a blockade erected amid mounting hostilities between the two countries.

    President Nicolas Maduro in February closed Venezuela's border with Colombia in a bid to stop a US-backed plan to deliver humanitarian aid.

    Since then, the thousands of migrants who cross daily into Colombia looking for food and medicine have relied on sometimes dangerous dirt paths between both countries.

    But the Tachira River separating both countries swelled on Tuesday after heavy rainfall. That led the migrants to break a Venezuelan police blockade at the Simon Bolivar bridge and climb atop shipping containers placed there by Maduro to block the delivery of aid.

    Colombia rejects Russia warning against Venezuelan military action

    Colombia on Tuesday rejected a Russian warning against foreign military intervention in Venezuela and said it supported a peaceful transition to democracy in the neighbouring South American country.

    "Colombia reiterates that the transition to democracy must be conducted by the Venezuelans themselves peacefully and within the framework of the Constitution and international law, supported by political and diplomatic means, without the use of force," Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said in a statement.

    He was responding to a March 28 letter from the upper house of Russia's parliament, forwarded to Colombia's Congress by Russian Ambassador Sergei Koshkin, that said the "illegitimate use of military force against Venezuela by other states that support the opposition will be interpreted ... as an act of aggression against a sovereign state".

    Colombia, which supports opposition leader Juan Guaido, has repeatedly denied it has any intention of launching a military offensive across its border with Venezuela.

    US says it will stand firm on sanctions of Venezuelan oil firm PDVSA

    US Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the United States would continue to bring pressure on Venezuela's oil industry and would stand firm on sanctions against the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.

    Pence, in a meeting with families of American Citgo executives arrested in Venezuela, said oil prices had been quite low and competitive recently.

    Monday, April 1

    Venezuela's Maduro replaces electricity minister amid nationwide blackouts

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday said he had replaced electricity minister Luis Motta amid a series of nationwide blackouts that have led to protests from citizens demanding restoration of power and water services.

    Motta will be replaced with electrical engineer Igor Gaviria, Maduro said in a state television address.

    Russia says it has opened helicopter training centre in Venezuela

    Russia has opened a training centre in Venezuela to help the country's pilots fly Russian-made military helicopters, Russian state-owned industrial conglomerate Rostec said on Monday, Moscow's latest gesture of support for President Nicolas Maduro.

    Rostec said the centre was inaugurated on Thursday last week, the same day as the White House warned Moscow and other countries backing Maduro against sending troops and military equipment, saying the United States would view such actions as a "direct threat" to the region's security.

    Rostec said the new training facility, the location of which it did not disclose, had been set up with the help of Russian specialists and was designed to train Venezuelan pilots to fly Russian-made Mi-35M helicopter gunships as well as Russian-made military transport helicopters.

    Venezuela judge seeks to strip Guaido's immunity

    Venezuela's chief justice is asking pro-government legislators to strip opposition leader Juan Guaido of immunity from prosecution.

    The request by Supreme Court Justice Maikel Moreno on Monday takes a further step towards prosecuting Guaido for alleged crimes.

    Moreno asked the pro-Maduro National Constituent Assembly to waive immunity Guaido holds as a member of Venezuela's National Assembly.

    Officials loyal to Maduro have already said that Guaido is under investigation for inciting violence against the government and receiving illicit funds. 

    Venezuela's intimidation tactics include arbitrary arrests, deportation: CPJ

    Amid Venezuela's deepening political and economic crisis, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) say that the authoritarian government of President Nicolás Maduro is arresting more journalists.

    Some 39 journalists have been arrested so far this year, according to Carcas-based Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) - an increase from 22 detentions recorder in 2018.

    The government "is trying to intimidate and demobilize journalists", IPYS analyst Mariengracia Chirinos told CPJ. "Reporting in Venezuela has become a much riskier activity."

    In some cases, the journalists had been reporting on sensitive subjects. But other journalists and camera operators have been arrested for seemingly more innocuous actions, such as filming anti-government graffiti or reporting near the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas.

    Some Venezuelan migrants say they fear expulsion from socialist Bolivia

    Dozens of Venezuelans who fled to Bolivia over recent months to escape economic and political unrest at home said they fear being deported from one of the few countries in the region that still supports the government of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro.

    Police last month arrested more than a dozen Venezuelans identified as having led anti-Maduro protests in front of the Cuban embassy in the Bolivian capital La Paz. Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales is an ally of both Havana and Maduro.

    The protesters had demanded the end of what they called interference in Venezuelan affairs by Cuba, the Communist-party-led Caribbean nation that they blame for stoking Venezuela's humanitarian crisis.

    Venezuela's Guaido pledges more protests over power, water shortages

    Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Monday called on supporters to continue taking to the streets in protest of power and water shortages, as the government of President Nicolas Maduro appeared prepared to begin a rationing programme.

    Scattered protests continued throughout several working-class neighbourhoods of the capital Caracas on Monday, with small groups of people blocking roads demanding water be returned after a week of intermittent blackouts that have left many areas without electricity.

    That followed demonstrations around Caracas on Monday night when police fired gunshots after residents set up burning barricades, according to Reuters witnesses. The oil-rich South American country has been hit by two waves of crippling blackouts since March 7.

    Venezuelans struggle to understand power rationing plan

    Venezuelans are struggling to understand an announcement that the nation's electricity is being rationed to combat daily blackouts.

    Office worker Raquel Mayorca said on Monday she didn't know if her lights were off because of another power failure or whether it was part of the government's plans. She said the power was out on one side of the street, but working on the other.

    President Nicolas Maduro said a day earlier that he was instituting a 30-day plan to ration electricity but provided no details. He called on Venezuelans to be calm.

    Turkey pledges continued support to Venezuela's Maduro

    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey is giving Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro its continued support and intends to deepen cooperation with Venezuela "in all fields" despite US pressure.

    Cavusoglu spoke on Monday during a joint news conference in Turkey with Venezuela's foreign affairs minister, Jorge Arreaza.

    Turkey has become one of Maduro's biggest backers, along with Russia, China and Cuba. The United States and dozens of nations in Latin America and Europe are supporting Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.

    The two foreign ministers criticized US sanctions on Venezuela that have also targeted the country's gold trade.

    Venezuelans plan protests over power and water as rationing looms

    Venezuelans on Monday prepared to hold protests over continued shortages of power and water following angry demonstrations as the government of President Nicolas Maduro appeared prepared to begin a rationing program.

    Police fired gunshots in parts of Caracas on Sunday night, according to Reuters witnesses, after residents set up burning barricades to demand a return of electricity and running water.

    "We'll see each other in the streets tomorrow," opposition leader Juan Guaido, who invoked the country's constitution to assume an interim presidency in January after arguing Maduro's May 2018 re-election was illegitimate, tweeted on Sunday night. "We will not hide from the dictator."

    Sunday, March 31

    Venezuela's Maduro announces power rationing amid blackouts

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a 30-day plan to ration electricity after nationwide power cuts that have inflicted misery on millions of people and ignited protests, including one near the presidential palace in Caracas.

    The rationing plan will help deal with the outages that have also cut off the water supply and communications for days at a time, Maduro said on Sunday in a speech on national television in which he also warned against any unrest in reaction to the blackouts.

    Maduro blamed the blackout on a "terrorist attack against the electricity system" by Washington and the "putschist opposition".

    The opposition has attributed the power outages to a lack of investment in the national grid, poor upkeep and a failure to tackle repairs.

    Venezuelans set up burning barricades over lack of power, water

    Venezuelans set up burning barricades near the presidential palace in Caracas and in other parts of the country on Sunday in protests over constant power outages and shortages of drinking water in the wake of two major blackouts this month.

    The situation has fueled frustration with the government of President Nicolas Maduro and frayed nerves as schools and much of the nation's commerce have been interrupted by problems with public services for nearly three weeks.

    Protesters, some carrying rocks and their faces covered, burned tires and tree trunks along a stretch of downtown Caracas as they demanded Maduro improve the situation.

    Demonstrators reported that one woman had been injured by gunfire, which they attributed to pro-government gangs. Reuters was unable to confirm who fired the shots.

    Saturday, March 30

    Anti-government protests met with tear gas

    Venezuelan security forces have fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who turned out in Caracas to protest against massive power outages that have kept much of the country in darkness since early March. 

    "Small groups [of protesters] were trying, as they have done in the past, to block some roads in the capital. They have been confronted by police and dispersed with tear gas," Al Jazeera's Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from Bogota, the capital of neighbouring Colombia, said. 

    At least eight anti-government demonstrations were scheduled for Saturday in Caracas. It is not clear how many of these have been broken up by the country's security forces. 

    The security forces' action comes as Maduro and Guaido's supporters are holding rival rallies throughout Venezuela.

    The pro-government demonstrators are protesting against what they see as an imperialist threat to the country, while Guaido is urging his supporters to continue putting pressure on the government by taking to the streets every time there is a power outage. 

    Guaido's supporters held banners saying "#MaduroLeaveNow" at anti-government protests in Caracas [Yuri Cortez/AFP]

    Russia dismisses speculation about military personnel in Venezuela

    Russia has dismissed US worries about the presence of Russian "specialists" in Venezuela, calling the concerns "absolutely groundless". 

    Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday that Russia had clearly stated the purpose of the specialists it had sent to Venezuela under a military cooperation deal and that they did not pose a threat to regional stability. 

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    "The Russian side clearly stated the purpose of the arrival of its specialists to Caracas. This is not about any 'military contigents'," Zakharova said in a statement. 

    "Thus, the speculations about the conduct of certain 'military operations' by Russia in Venezuela are absolutely groundless."

    The statement comes a day after the US warned Russia and others against sending troops to Venezuela. 

    Rival rallies held as power struggle continues

    Supporters of Guaido and Maduro, held rival demonstrations on Saturday.

    Maduro loyalists gathered in the capital, Caracas, for what was billed as an "anti-imperialist" rally. With Maduro writing on Twitter that the Venezuelan people had mobilised to "say 'NO' to imperial terrorism". 

    TRANSLATION: Today the Venezuelan people mobilised throughout the national territory as part of the Great Operation in Defence of Freedom to say "NO" to imperial terrorism, and to defend the peace of our beloved Venezuela. Loyalists Always, Traitors Never!

    Meanwhile, Guaido addressed a large crowd in the nearby city of Los Teques, encouraging people to call for change. Anti-government protests were also scheduled to take place in several areas in Caracas on Saturday against ongoing power outages. 

    Friday, March 29

    Venezuela defense minister says US security adviser 'sending me messages'

    Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Friday that US national security adviser John Bolton has been sending him messages asking him to do the "right thing".

    "Mr Bolton, I tell you that we are doing the right thing," Padrino said in televised comments. "Doing the right thing is doing what's written in the constitution ... Doing the right thing is respecting the will of the people."

    It was not immediately evident if Padrino was referring to Bolton's recent tweets, in which he made direct mention of Padrino.

    US response to Russian troops in Venezuela could include sanctions: Abrams

    The US special representative for Venezuela said on Friday that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has a list of options, including sanctions, Washington could use to respond to the presence of Russian troops in Venezuela.

    "We have a list of options we have given the secretary. There are a lot of things we can do in economic terms, in terms of sanctions," Elliott Abrams told a news briefing. "We have options and it would be a mistake for the Russians to think they have a free hand," he added.

    Red Cross says it sees conditions for humanitarian work in Venezuela

    Venezuela has met the necessary conditions for the Red Cross to carry out humanitarian work in the South American nation, the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a news conference on Friday.

    Francesco Rocca said the group was in a position to help some 650,000 people in Venezuela, which has suffered rising incidence of malnutrition and preventable disease amid an economic collapse.

    Trump adviser warns Russia on military presence in Venezuela

    US President Donald Trump's national security adviser warned Russia on Friday about its military presence in Venezuela, saying any move to establish or expand operations there would be considered a "direct threat" to international peace.

    "We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations," White House national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement.

    "We will consider such provocative actions as a direct threat to international peace and security in the region," Bolton added. The US government says the Russian troops include special forces and cybersecurity personnel.

    Thursday, March 28

    Maduro's government bars Guaido from public office for 15 years

    The Venezuelan government said it has barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from holding public office for 15 years, though the National Assembly leader brushed off the measure and said it would not derail his campaign to remove President Nicolas Maduro.

    The announcement by state comptroller Elvis Amoroso, a close ally of Maduro, cited alleged irregularities in Guaido's financial records and reflected a tightening of government pressure on an opposition movement backed by the United States and its allies.

    "We're going to continue in the streets," Guaido said soon after Amoroso's statements on state television. He dismissed the comptroller's announcement as irrelevant because, in his view, Maduro's government is illegitimate.

    Kremlin: our military specialists are in Venezuela to service arms deals

    Russian military specialists are in Venezuela to service pre-existing contracts for the supply of Russian arms, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says. 

    Peskov also says Russia is not interfering in Venezuela's internal affairs and that the Kremlin hopes other countries would let Venezuelans decide their own fate.

    US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that "all options" were open to make Russia pull troops out of Venezuela after two Russian air force planes landed outside Caracas on Saturday carrying nearly 100 Russian troops.

    US bringing 'maximum pressure' on Venezuela: Sanctions official

    The United States was bringing "maximum pressure" on the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro, a top US sanctions official said on Friday.

    Sigal Mandelker, under-secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, made her comments in Singapore. She is due to discuss sanctions on Iran over coming days with government officials in Malaysia, Singapore and India.

    Venezuelans turn to food production amid crisis

    In the heart of the Venezuelan capital Caracas, a community has decided to create an agro-ecological farm and has called for the government and people to be ready for the coming US sanctions.

    They have vegetables, fish and even rabbits to eat and distribute among the community. They say there are more than 20,000 projects like this one in Venezuela.

    Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo reports from Caracas, Venezuela.

    Wednesday, March 27 

    Guaido calls for protest against nationwide blackout

    Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has called on his supporters to protest against a nationwide blackout, the second major power outage this month that is dragging into its third day.

    Trump says Russian military must leave Venezuela 

    US President Donald Trump has said that Russian soldiers need to leave Venezuela, days after a Russian military contingent arrived just outside of Caracas, saying "all options" were open to make that happen.

    "Russia has to get out," Trump tells reporters during a meeting with the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.

    Asked how that could be accomplished, Trump says: "We'll see. All options are open."

    Tuesday, March 25

    Brazil not considering military force in Venezuela 

    Brazil is not considering the use of military force in Venezuela and hopes for a peaceful solution to the country's crisis, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva says as he meets his American counterpart at the Pentagon.

    "That's not a hypothesis we're considering. Brazil is looking forward to a peaceful and swift solution to the crisis in Venezuela," he says, when asked whether the use of military force might be appropriate

    Blackout leaves streets empty 

    Venezuela has cancelled work and school as the second major blackout this month left streets mostly empty in Caracas and residents of the capital wondering how long power would be out amid a deepening economic and political crisis.

    Maduro's government blames an "attack" on its electrical system for the blackout that first hit on Monday.

    The outage shuttered businesses, plunged the city's main airport into darkness and left commuters stranded in Caracas.

    "The enemies of our Homeland do not cease in their attempts to destabilise the Country," Maduro writes on Twitter. 

    "I assure you that in every action of hatred against our Homeland, you will find an increasingly united, conscious and mobilised people. We will defeat them!"

    US ratchets up dispute with Maduro at WTO body 

    The US has blocked a meeting of the World Trade Organization's dispute body, gumming up its operations over the Trump administration's refusal to recognise the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

    The US delegation refuses to approve the agenda of the Dispute Settlement Body that was to take up several issues on Tuesday, including a Venezuelan effort to lift US sanctions and measures against Maduro's government and entourage.

    Approval of the DSB agenda requires consensus. Such a postponement is rare, and the move amounts to a new US tactic to try to ratchet up pressure against Maduro's government.

    For all previous updates, click here. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies