Venezuelans travel to border in caravan to pick up aid
Thursday, February 21
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A caravan of opposition leaders is heading toward Venezuela’s border with Colombia ahead of a Saturday showdown over humanitarian aid.
Lawmakers departed in three white buses from Caracas early Thursday. They were supposed to be led by National Assembly President Juan Guaido.
But the man recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela’s rightful leader was nowhere to be seen. That’s led to speculation he was using the press attention as a decoy so he could travel undetected by security forces, who are expected to block the caravan’s advance.
The opposition is vowing on Saturday to deliver large amounts of U.S.-supplied aid warehoused in the Colombian border city of Cucuta. President Nicolas Maduro has ordered his armed forces to disrupt their plans, considering them a ploy aimed at forcing him from power.
Should the U.S. Government Abide by the International Law It Has Created and Claims to Uphold?
By Lawrence Wittner
The Trump administration’s campaign to topple the government of Venezuela raises the issue of whether the U.S. government is willing to adhere to the same rules of behavior it expects other nations to follow.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, U.S. foreign policy was characterized by repeated acts of U.S. military intervention in Latin American nations. But it began to shift in the late 1920s, as what became known as the Good Neighbor Policy was formulated. Starting in 1933, the U.S. government, responding to Latin American nations’ complaints about U.S. meddling in their internal affairs, used the occasion of Pan-American conferences to proclaim a nonintervention policy. This policy was reiterated by the Organization of American States (OAS), founded in 1948 and headquartered in Washington, DC.
Article 19 of the OAS Charter states clearly: “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State.” To be sure, the Charter, in Article 2(b), declares that one of the essential purposes of the OAS is “to promote and consolidate representative democracy.” But this section continues, in the same sentence, to note that such activity should be conducted “with due respect for the principle of nonintervention.” The U.S. government, of course, is an active member of the OAS and voted to approve the Charter. It is also legally bound by the Charter, which is part of international law.
The United Nations Charter, also formulated by the U.S. government and part of international law, includes its own nonintervention obligation. Attempting to outlaw international aggression, the UN Charter declares, in Article 2(4), that “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” Although this wording is vaguer than the OAS Charter’s condemnation of all kinds of intervention, in 1965 the UN General Assembly adopted an official resolution that tightened things up by proclaiming: “No State has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State.”
Unfortunately, the U.S. government has violated these principles of international law many times in the past―toppling or attempting to topple numerous governments. And the results often have failed to live up to grandiose promises and expectations. Just look at the outcome of U.S. regime change operations during recent decades in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Cambodia, Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and numerous other nations.
Of course, there are things worth criticizing in Venezuela, as there are in many other countries―including the United States. Consequently, a substantial majority of OAS nations voted in January 2019 for a resolution that rejected the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s new term as president, claiming that the May 2018 electoral process lacked “the participation of all Venezuelan political actors,” failed “to comply with international standards,” and lacked “the necessary guarantees for a free, fair, transparent, and democratic process.”
Nonetheless, the January 2019 OAS resolution did not call for outside intervention but, rather, for “a national dialogue with the participation of all Venezuelan political actors and stakeholders” to secure “national reconciliation,” “a new electoral process,” and a peaceful resolution to “the current crisis in that country.” In addition, nonintervention and a process of reconciliation between Venezuela’s sharply polarized political factions have been called for by the government of Mexico and by the Pope.
This policy of reconciliation is far from the one promoted by the U.S. government. In a speech to a frenzied crowd in Miami on February 18, Donald Trump once again demanded the resignation of Maduro and the installation as Venezuelan president of Juan Guiado, the unelected but self-proclaimed president Trump favors. “We seek a peaceful transition to power,” Trump said. “But all options are on the table.”
Such intervention in Venezuela’s internal affairs, including the implicit threat of U.S. military invasion, seems likely to lead to massive bloodshed in that country, the destabilization of Latin America, and―at the least―the further erosion of the international law the U.S. government claims to uphold.
Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).
US sanctions on Venezuelan oil could cut the output of refineries at home
February 20, 2019
Author: Eric Smith, Director of the Energy Institute and Professor of Practice, Tulane University
Disclosure statement: Eric Smith does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
U.S. sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil and gas company, along with some government officials and executives, are intended to put pressure on the government headed by Nicolás Maduro.
As the interim director of the Tulane Energy Institute, which tracks energy markets and provides forecasts, and someone with 35 years of oil industry experience, I’m certain that they will also reverberate in this country too – especially in Louisiana, where the oil and gas industry is among the state’s biggest employers.
Despite having the world’s biggest petroleum reserves, Venezuela is now functionally bankrupt and wracked by hyperinflation. Even before the sanctions against Petróleos de Venezuela, the state-owned company known as PDVSA, its crude production was rapidly declining.
Since the late president Hugo Chávez’s election in 1998, followed by Maduro’s rise to power in 2013, the Venezuelan government has effectively destroyed the country’s political institutions, as well as its petroleum-based economy. Oil production has declined by two-thirds, dropping from about 3 million barrels per day in 2000 to around 1.2 million barrels per day in January 2019.
During this long decline, Venezuela collected payments in advance from some of its biggest customers, and therefore cannot collect the revenue now that it would otherwise be obtaining from oil production. Thanks to this practice, it actually doesn’t earn any hard currency from much of the crude that it does export.
Instead, these export earnings actually pay off cash advances from China, Russia and Repsol, the Spanish energy company.
Refineries located along the U.S. Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas were just about Venezuela’s last source of hard currency. That came to a halt when the Trump administration slapped sanctions on PDVSA in late January 2019.
You might think that Venezuela could just find new markets for its oil, but that is harder than it may sound.
Venezuelan crude is heavy and sour, meaning it is extremely dense and contains a high percentage of sulfur. Globally, most refineries process light sweet crude into gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and other fuels and products. Only specialized “complex” refineries can handle the dense petroleum produced in Venezuela and remove its unwanted sulfur.
More than half of U.S. refinery capacity is ‘complex,’ meaning it requires at least some heavy crude oil to operate properly. Nearly all Gulf Coast refineries are complex. U.S. Energy Information Administration
The U.S. refineries that can do this are mainly located along the Gulf Coast, in the Midwest and in California. Most of the rest are located in China and India.
Complex refineries cost about 50 percent more to build. They are also more expensive to operate. They can compete, however, because they use crude from sources like Venezuela that costs less than most crude oil.
Although U.S. oil production is rising, the domestic industry still needs to import heavy crude to keep the complex refineries operating efficiently. As of early 2019, 90 percent of U.S. imports were heavy crude. Countries that export this heavy petroleum include Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Iran.
Based on their proximity, Canada and Mexico should be good sources for U.S. refiners. However, due to delays in the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and other pipelines that may eventually run from the northern border to the Gulf Coast, there’s no easy way to replace the blocked shipments from Venezuela.
While Canada is shipping more heavy crude by rail, this approach is much more expensive. It costs about $20 per barrel to ship heavy crude from Canada by rail, versus an estimated $12.50 per barrel via pipelines.
Mexico’s challenge is different. Its heavy crude production has been declining for years. Mexico now imports light crude, as well as gasoline and other refined products from the U.S..
Russia and Saudi Arabia
Another factor is that Saudi Arabia and Russia are cutting their oil production, especially heavy sour crude, as part of an effort to shore up crude prices. Canada is curtailing heavy oil production as well.
It may sound reasonable for the U.S. to simply substitute its own light sweet crude for imported heavy sour crude. But the crude distillation units at complex refineries like those in Louisiana were not designed to use ever higher percentages of light sweet crude.
These refineries require approximately 30 percent heavy crude to operate optimally. At a minimum, the Gulf Coast region needs something like 3.1 million barrels of heavy sour crude per day.
The 563,000 of barrels per day the U.S. was buying from Venezuela in November 2018 only represented 2.8 percent of the roughly 20 million barrels of crude it consumed. But those imports represented a bigger share of the heavy oil the U.S. used: 17 percent, according to my calculations.
Without that supply, Gulf Coast refineries can only reduce throughput and shut down much of their idle sulfur removal capacity.
High stakes for some states
Shutting off heavy crude from Venezuela to Gulf Coast refineries would reduce the production of heavier distillates, such as heating oil, marine fuel oil and diesel.
Heavier crude must be distilled at higher temperatures, which yields diesel, fuel oil and other products. U.S. Energy Information Administration
Jet fuel and gasoline won’t be as affected because these products can be produced from any refinery capable of processing abundant domestic light sweet crude.
I would expect U.S. exports of diesel and heavier distillates to decline as a result, particularly shipments to Latin America and to Europe. After that, domestic supplies to the states supplied by Gulf Coast refineries could be hit as well.
Prices for diesel and fuel oil are likely to rise once supplies are constrained, which could occur quickly because U.S. refineries have little capacity to spare.
Even if U.S. refineries do eventually replace Venezuelan oil, the odds are that crude will come from farther away and cost more. That would, in turn, make diesel cost more, increasing the cost to consumers for everything from food to furniture and flat-screen TVs.
This would happen not just in Louisiana, but in communities far away, as long as the delivery trucks, rail cars and vessels involved have diesel engines. The disruption would illustrate the way that U.S. sanctions intended to apply pressure on other countries can also take a toll on Americans.
Tommy Timmy, logged in via Google: “the Venezuelan government has effectively destroyed the country’s political institutions”
This is pure disinformation. Linking to another Conversation article as proof of the claim made is like linking to an article denying the link between tobacco and lung cancer from the tobacco lobby.
Spreading the above disinformation about Venezuela’s government is actually illegal as articulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 20, which reads…
Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.
Of course, if one is lying in the interests of the 0.001% of humanity who rule the planet then there are no repercussions. The good professor knows which side of his toast is buttered.
Eric Smith, Director of the Energy Institute and Professor of Practice, Tulane University, In reply to Tommy Timmy: We have a quaint notion in this country, enshrined in our constitution. We call it “freedom of speech”. Despite over 200 years of sporadic attacks, it still survives. We basically allow anyone to say anything. In this case, I suspect your particular opinion about the efficacy of Venezuela’s current regime will not hold up either within or outside of Venezuela. However, thanks to your critique, I did recall my grandmother’s best mixed metaphor. “You buttered your bread, now lie in it!”. I think it applies here.
Pence to deliver speech on Venezuela in Colombia on Monday
WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence is traveling to Colombia next week to demonstrate continued U.S. support for the opposition to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Pence’s office says he’ll deliver a speech Monday in Bogota on the humanitarian and security crisis in neighboring Venezuela, and U.S. efforts to help get aid to the country. Pence will meet with Colombian President Ivan Duque as well as Venezuelan families who have sought refuge outside the country.
President Donald Trump and Duque discussed the situation in Venezuela during a White House meeting last week.
The United States and dozens of other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido (gwy-DOH’) as Venezuela’s interim president. Maduro told the AP in an interview last week that he will not give up power as a way to defuse the standoff.
Oscars 2019: Beyond the stats, why diversity matters
February 21, 2019
Author: Dorinne Kondo, Professor of American Studies & Ethnicity and Anthropology, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
Disclosure statement: Dorinne Kondo does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Southern California — Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
With the Academy Awards approaching, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released its most recent report on diversity in Hollywood.
It documented an upward trend toward equality: The number of women and people of color in the role of lead or co-lead has risen over the last two years. Still, the film industry has yet to achieve parity, especially for people of color, whose representation is 11 percent lower than their share of the general population.
Statistics provide an indispensable metric to understand the big picture, what I call “creative labor” of who’s hired for particular jobs. But numbers alone can’t account for the types of characters being played – if they’re stereotypical roles or groundbreaking portrayals. Nor do numbers tell us why representations in popular culture can have such profound impact on people’s lives.
In my book “Worldmaking: Race, Performance and the Work of Creativity,” I approach the issue of diversity as a cultural anthropologist, playwright and performance studies scholar. In it, I argue that cultural representation is about something deeper than parity for the sake of parity – that everyone needs to be mirrored in the public sphere in order to exist and to count as a fully dimensional human being.
Visions of possibility
Classic psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan proposed the concept of the mirror stage of development, which he argued was necessary for the formation of an identity.
He used the metaphor of infants recognizing themselves in a mirror as the first step towards seeing themselves as integrated, whole beings. While Lacan thought it was impossible to achieve “wholeness” – no one can be completely whole and integrated – he argued that identities are imagined and reinforced through this mirroring.
For this reason, it’s critical that people see themselves mirrored in popular culture. Identities can be formed by watching film, television, theater or sports. They’re shaped by playing video games, dancing and listening to music. The characters who appear and the roles they assume indicate whose lives matter in the public sphere, and who is erased.
Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio was nominated for best actress for her role in ‘Roma.’ Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
The arts and popular culture stage what I call “visions of possibility” for what viewers and readers can become. For generations, members of the dominant culture were primarily able to see themselves on screen as leaders – the heroes of stories that are publicly recognized and celebrated. Marginalized people were relegated to more limited possibilities, and these limitations can carry over into diminished dreams and life choices.
That’s starting to change. A black child can now see Chadwick Boseman star as the hero of “Black Panther,” and Storm Reid play 13-year-old protagonist Meg Murry in “A Wrinkle in Time.” An Asian-American child can see Constance Wu command the screen in “Crazy Rich Asians,” while an indigenous person can see Yalitza Aparicio appear as the lead in “Roma.”
Culture can combat the ‘slow death’ of inequality
The ability of viewers to see themselves mirrored becomes especially crucial when we rethink how inequality operates. Racism, for example, is not simply a matter of spectacular violence or membership in the Ku Klux Klan. Nor is racism simply a matter of attitude or prejudice.
Critical geographer and social justice activist Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls racism “group differentiated vulnerability to premature death.”
In other words, some groups are more likely to experience lower life expectancies, whether it’s from violence, imprisonment, exposure to environmental toxins or even the greater amount of energy it takes to get through a day. Inequalities of race, class and gender can gradually erode psychological and physical health, in what English professor Lauren Berlant calls “slow death.”
To counter the slow death of inequality, I argue that the sort of mirroring in popular culture that affirms viewers from marginalized groups is life-giving.
This requires attention to creative vision. It’s not simply a matter of numbers; it’s a matter of whose stories are being told, and who is controlling the narrative. The growing number of women and people of color on screen may not signal a new, exciting creative vision if they’re cast in the conventional roles of damsel in distress, “the black best friend,” the increasingly popular gay, “fabulous” black best friend or “the Asian nerd.”
New voices, new stories, new understanding
That’s why it’s important to shine a spotlight on all kinds of new stories, whether it’s making a superhero a star or simply highlighting everyday lives of people of different cultures, classes, races or sexualities.
Tales of dysfunctional white families and the mid-life crises of straight white men remain too numerous to count.
What can be gained by subjects and premises that are so repetitive? What about the invisible everyday lives and experiences of indigenous or Middle Eastern women? What could be learned from an Asian-American female protagonist’s midlife crisis? Or would “midlife crisis” even be an apt term for her unique experiences? Would there be a new way to imagine her story?
How many other stories go unseen and untold?
Postcolonial scholar Gayatri Spivak wrote that racism and colonialism aren’t simply a matter of overt, conscious domination. Instead, they involve what she calls “zones of sanctioned ignorance.” In other words, what do people not know about the lives of those who are different from themselves?
Lack of diversity creates zones of sanctioned ignorance. Denying playwrights, screenwriters and directors from marginalized communities a platform for their work deprives everyone the opportunity to engage with the world in new ways.
What intriguing tales might await when richly specific, expansive creative visions from previously overlooked writers and directors are given the space to blossom? What fresh, fascinating stories will emerge?
Without a continued push for diversity, audiences will never know.