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Buenos Aires Hours | Paris Club Says Argentina Pledged To Reach A Deal With The IMF By Next March

The Argentine authorities are committed to reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund by the end of March at the latest as part of an agreement with the Paris Club to avoid a default, according to the second head of the group.

The country has also agreed to treat all other external creditors comparably as part of a deal with the rich country group in which it will make a partial payment, Club Secretary General Schwan Badirou-Gafari said in a response. by email with questions.

“Given the commitments made by the authorities regarding the conclusion of an agreement with the IMF as soon as possible and no later than the end of March 2022, as well as their commitment to respect the comparability of treatment, the Paris Club would be able to ‘avoid declaring a default at the end of July,’ said Badirou-Gafari.

Argentina said on Tuesday it will make a partial payment of $ 430 million to the club to avoid default after missing a $ 2.4 billion payment that was due last month. As part of the deal, the country has until March 31 to complete its restructuring with the Club, but Economy Minister Martín Guzmán said this deadline would have no impact on the timing of negotiations with the Club. the IMF.

The Club has asked Argentina to pay the equivalent of what it owes to Chinese lenders China Development Bank and Export-Import Bank of China this year, a person familiar with the negotiations said. The club’s creditors, mostly Western governments, were unhappy that Argentina sought to defer payments as it continued to honor its obligations to Chinese creditors on time, another source close to the talks said.

A deal with the IMF is understood to be the conclusion of a new loan program with the Washington-based lender, Badirou-Gafari added later by telephone.

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by Alonso Soto, Bloomberg

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Buenos Aires Hours | Sydney residents banned from leaving city as coronavirus cluster grows

Residents of Sydney were largely banned from leaving the city on Wednesday as Australian authorities rushed to prevent a growing epidemic of the highly contagious variant of Delta Covid-19 from spreading to other areas.

More than 30 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 since the cluster emerged in the Bondi Beach area last week, the latest in a series of outbreaks that highlight Australia’s difficulty in extinguishing outbreaks.

New South Wales State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced new restrictions that will apply next week, including an immediate ban on non-essential travel outside of Sydney and limits on social gatherings.

A “very huge proportion” of Sydney’s five million people are subject to the travel ban, which applies to seven local government areas where cases of Covid-19 have been detected, she said .

Authorities have not ordered restaurants and bars to close, but singing and dancing are prohibited, while large events can still take place with a stadium capacity limited to 50%.

Authorities have pleaded with Sydney residents to follow the new rules.

“I know from my experience… there is a degree of fatigue and a degree of apathy with the response to the virus,” said NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

“But in a sense, this is a new, more dangerous version of the virus and that apathy needs to be swept away.”

Australia has been one of the most successful countries in the world to contain Covid-19, with just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths.

The latest outbreak has been linked to an international flight crew driver who contracted the Delta variant of the virus, which was first identified in India.

New Zealand authorities have also tightened Covid-19 restrictions in Wellington after a man from Sydney who visited the capital over the weekend tested positive on his return home.

The virus has escaped several times from Australian hotels used to quarantine returning travelers, and health experts say outbreaks will continue until large numbers of Australians are vaccinated.

About 6.7 million doses have been administered to date in a population of 25 million, with only a small fraction of those who have received both vaccines.


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Buenos Aires Hours | Spot checks reveal 38% of arrivals do not comply with Covid-19 quarantine rules

Thirty-eight percent of people who recently entered Argentina do not comply with mandatory quarantine restrictions linked to Covid-19, revealed random checks carried out by the National Migration Directorate (DNM).

Over the past week, 747 home inspections recorded by arrivals were carried out by security officers, migration officials said. Among these, a total of 287 people did not respect the rules of compulsory isolation, just over 38%,

“It may not be that some do not understand that everything is at stake here. We must delay the entry of [new Covid-19] variants as much as possible to continue to progress in vaccination and move away from winter, which in itself tends to increase complex respiratory ailments due to seasonal illnesses, ”said Florencia Carignano, national director of migration.

The spot inspections, which were carried out without prior warning, took place in the city of Buenos Aires and in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Chubut, Mendoza, La Rioja, Corrientes, Jujuy and Salta.

“We have to take care of the effort people make. The entry of new, more contagious and virulent variants can jeopardize the reopening of activities that we have carried out with so much sacrifice and put another strain on the healthcare system, “Carignano warned.

Last week, migration officials announced they would tighten controls to prevent the spread of more infectious strains of Covid-19, such as the new ‘Delta’ and ‘South African’ variants.

According to the most recent government decree, all passengers returning from abroad (only citizens and foreign residents are allowed to enter, with a few exceptions) are required to show a negative PCR test result in order to board a flight to destination Argentina, as well as performing another test on arrival.

If they are positive, then individuals must stay in a government approved hotel until their variant of Covid-19 is identified. If their strain is already circulating in the country, the person is allowed to complete their mandatory quarantine period at home. If the strain is not widely disseminated, they must complete their tenure at the hotel.

In addition, health ministry rules require all those returning from overseas to spend a week in isolation and undergo a PCR test in order to regain their freedom.

The Home Office said Monday it was the responsibility of provincial and regional governments to ensure compliance with administrative segregation rules.

“It is vital to comply with these measures,” Carignano said.

The National Directorate of Migration, an organ of the Interior Ministry, said Monday that 287 people who failed to comply with mandatory quarantine measures upon entering the country could be “criminally denounced” before the authorities.

Failure to adhere to restrictions “is a federal crime and those returning from overseas must understand the responsibility and risk that this entails for the rest if they fail to follow protocols,” said Carignano, who warned that offenders could face between three and five years of delay. bars if found guilty.

At least 274 people have been charged with violating articles 205 and 239 of the Penal Code, the official added.


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Buenos Aires Hours | Fernández to travel to Paris for UN summit on gender equality

President Alberto Fernández will travel to Paris for the second time in two months to attend a United Nations summit on gender equality, it was learned this weekend.

The Peronist leader will participate in the event from June 30 to July 2, convened by UN Women and organized by Mexico and France, at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, local daily La Nación reported on Saturday, citing sources. government.

According to UN Women, the Generation Equality Forum is a global gathering of youth and civil society groups that aims to launch “a series of concrete, ambitious and transformative actions to achieve immediate and irreversible progress towards gender equality. “.

His first leg was in Mexico City in March. This second summit, lasting three days, will be inaugurated at the Louvre museum. World leaders from Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Kenya, Tunisia, Cyprus and Estonia are also expected, as well as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Kamala Harris have also been invited to the forum, but none have confirmed their attendance to date.

Reportedly, Macron first invited Fernández to the forum in February, when he congratulated him after Congress passed Argentina’s historic abortion reform law, which decriminalized and legalized the procedure.

This will be the second time the two leaders will meet in nearly 50 days. Fernández last saw his French counterpart in mid-May, during a stop on his brief European tour which also took place in Portugal, Spain, Italy and the Vatican. The latter stay was aimed at gaining diplomatic support for Argentina’s attempts to renegotiate multibillion-dollar debts with the International Monetary Fund.

According to official sources, quoted by the Noticias Argentinas news agency, President Fernández will leave for Paris on June 28 to attend the opening sessions of the forum two days later. That same evening, he will participate in a dinner at the Élysée with other world leaders.


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Buenos Aires Hours | United States marks end of slavery on new “June” national holiday

With marches, music and speeches, Americans on Saturday celebrated “June,” the new national holiday that marks the end of slavery and comes a year after the murder of George Floyd sparked protests against racism.

Hundreds of events were planned across the country, from New York to Los Angeles, and notably in Galveston, Texas, the symbolic heart of the commemoration of the Juneteenth.

For on June 19, 1865, it was in this coastal area of ​​Texas that the Union Army – victorious after the bitter civil war – announced to African Americans that while some in Texas tried to ignore it, the slaves were now free.

Slavery was formally abolished in December 1865, with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but June 15 remained the iconic date marking the liberation of American slaves.

This year’s June 17 celebrations are all the more festive, coming just days after President Joe Biden signed a law making June 19 a national holiday, and at a time when restrictions imposed by the pandemic on public gatherings are gradually relaxed.

“It was a long time coming,” said Cheryl Green, 68. She attended the unveiling in the New York neighborhood of Brooklyn of a bust of George Floyd, the black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020.

“It’s good that people recognize what happened,” said Green, an African-American resident of Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood. “Changes are coming slowly, but we will surely get there.”

In Washington, hundreds of people celebrated on Black Lives Matter Plaza, a section of 16th Street near the White House that was renamed by the city amid massive anti-racism protests galvanized by Floyd’s death.

Kevin Blanks, a 29-year-old black man, said he came to denounce racism which is “still very much in the DNA of this country”.

He wore a T-shirt that paid tribute to black leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman.

Danique McGuire, a 51-year-old black woman, said that by signing Juneteenth’s law, “President Biden recognized the importance of black Americans.”

She added, however, that “the fight is still long” for complete equality.

Floyd’s murder sparked global protests against racism and police violence against minorities.

This move helped raise the profile of Juneteenth – a date many Americans, including many African Americans, had not heard of just two years ago.

An opinion poll released Tuesday by the Gallup Institute found that 28% of Americans knew “nothing at all” about the anniversary.

“I didn’t hear about Juneteenth until I got to high school,” said Farah Louis, a black city official in New York City, who was attending Floyd’s unveiling in Brooklyn.

She said Juneteenth should be used to “educate our youth” on the treatment of blacks throughout American history.

“While the iron is hot”

Celebrating Juneteenth now seems “a bit surreal” as many Republican-led states pass laws that limit voting options in a way that “affects communities of color the most,” tweeted Sharif Street, a black Pennsylvania lawmaker.

From January to May, 14 states, including Georgia and Florida, passed laws limiting voting opportunities – measures seen as aimed at reducing the influence of minority voters, especially African Americans.

For Sharif Street, it is “a reminder that our victories are not permanent”.

A bill to protect voting rights is currently being debated in the US Senate, but with many Republicans opposing it, its fate appears uncertain.

For Farah Louis, the proclamation of Juneteenth as well as the impetus of the George Floyd movement present an opportunity.

“You have to strike while the iron is hot,” she said, citing among other things the idea of ​​government paid reparations to compensate the descendants of those enslaved.

On Friday, the mayors of 11 US cities, including Los Angeles and Denver, pledged to pursue the question of how best to carry out the repairs. They called on Congress and the US government to follow their example.

“We are seeing change” in the country, said Terrence Floyd during the unveiling in Brooklyn of the bust honoring his brother George.

Terrence Floyd, who lives in New York, recently created a group called “We Are Floyd” to help “keep the change going,” he told AFP.

“Because right now, it’s not a moment. It’s a movement.”

– AFP, Thomas Urbain

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Buenos Aires Hours | Peru’s interim leader criticizes ex-military interference in vote

Interim Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti on Friday denounced retired members of the armed forces who called on the military to prevent left-wing candidate Pedro Castillo from assuming the presidency.

Trade unionist Castillo is expected to be declared the winner of the June 6 presidential runoff when the final results are finally released.

An unofficial tally allowed him to beat right-wing populist Keiko Fujimori – who claims the election was tainted with fraud and called for it to be quashed – by around 44,000 votes.

On Thursday, hundreds of retirees from the armed forces signed a letter denouncing “fraud” and asking the military high command to prevent Castillo from being proclaimed president by the national elections jury (JNE) in an “illegal and illegitimate” manner.

“It is unacceptable (…) that a group of retired armed forces tries to incite the high command of the army, navy and air to violate the rule of law,” said Sagasti .

“In a democracy, the armed forces are not one-sided, they are absolutely neutral and scrupulously respect the constitution,” added Sagasti, who is due to hand over the reins on July 28.

The letter was delivered to the combined high command headquarters in the capital Lima.

A similar letter signed by 64 retired generals and admirals – expressing their opposition to an electoral victory for Castillo – was published on Monday.

The JNE is still facing the challenges of the results brought mainly by the Fujimori campaign.

Sagasti said he had asked Defense Minister Nuria Esparch to send the letters to the Attorney General’s office “to conduct the necessary investigations to determine whether there had been any behavior potentially prejudicial to constitutional order and to establish the responsibles”.

Fujimori cried foul for the first time after Castillo beat her in the official vote count. At first, she had been in the lead.

The daughter of disgraced and authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori has much of her base of support in the big cities, where the count is faster, while Castillo’s stronghold is the countryside.

Observers for the Organization of American States called the election “clean” and free from “serious irregularities.”

Three days before the elections, the armed forces urged Peruvians to “respect” the results.


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Buenos Aires Hours | Third pandemic wave strikes as Brazil surpasses half a million Covid deaths

Brazil on Saturday became the second country after the United States to exceed 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 as the South American giant grapples with a third wave of the pandemic.

“500,000 lives lost due to the pandemic affecting our Brazil and the world,” tweeted Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga.

The health ministry has reported 500,800 deaths, including 2,301 in the past 24 hours, a toll that many epidemiologists consider to be undercount.

This week, the average number of daily deaths exceeded 2,000 for the first time since May 10.

“The third wave is coming, there is already a change in the curves of cases and deaths,” Ethel Maciel, epidemiologist at Espirito Santo University, told AFP.

“Our vaccination (program), which could make the difference, is slow and there are no signs of restrictive measures, quite the contrary.”

In the big cities, life seems to be almost back to normal with restaurants, bars and shops open and many people on the streets not wearing face masks.

And yet the situation is critical in 19 of Brazil’s 27 states with more than 80% intensive care bed occupancy – in nine of those states it exceeds 90%.

According to the latest weekly report from the medical research foundation Fiocruz, the country finds itself in a “critical” situation with a high number of deaths and the possibility that things will get worse in the weeks to come with the arrival of the winter in the southern hemisphere.

Experts are concerned about the slow roll-out of the country’s vaccination campaign, the spread of more aggressive viral variants, and President Jair Bolsonaro’s hostility to preventive measures such as wearing a mask and lockdown measures.

Queiroga tweeted that he was working “tirelessly to vaccinate all Brazilians as soon as possible and change this scenario that has plagued us for over a year”.

– Times, AFP, Louis Genot

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Buenos Aires Hours | What We Learned This Week: June 12-19


Coronavirus deaths have moved closer and closer to the 90,000 mark with a total of 88,247 deaths and 4,242,763 confirmed cases of contagion as of going to press yesterday, up from 84,628 deaths and 4,093,090 case the previous Friday. Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner broke a long silence on the pandemic during the inauguration of La Plata hospital on Monday, calling for integrated health care and calling on the opposition to stop politicizing the issue of the vaccination. Throughout the week, some 3.26 million schoolchildren in 74 of the 135 districts of the province of Buenos Aires began returning to classrooms although the opposition complained that most of the other 61 containing over a million additional schoolchildren were ruled by them, including the large towns of Mar del Plata and Bahia Blanca. Meanwhile, dissident teachers’ unions have gone on strike, demanding that the 150,000 unvaccinated teachers be excused from work. A related controversial issue was the suspension of Aprender’s academic assessment tests.


Argentina was the only South American country to abstain on Tuesday in an Organization of American States (OAS) vote against the arbitrary arrest of more than a dozen opposition leaders in Nicaragua, Bolivia being one of only three countries (including Nicaragua itself) to oppose the motion.


Inflation last month was 3.3%, INDEC’s statistics office said on Wednesday, down from 4.1% in April and 4.8% in March, but is heading towards 50% annual instead of the 2021 budget forecast of 29%. Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Darío Martínez has sought to calm expectations by confirming that there will be no more increases for electricity, gas or fuels (a sector that has grown by 3.5% last month) for the remainder of this year.


The “blue” dollar, the main parallel exchange rate, stormed last week against the norms of a generally calm year, hitting 164 pesos yesterday from 158 pesos the previous Friday. This strong bullish momentum in the dollar took place despite stronger demand for pesos with the approach of the mid-year premium payment. The difference with the official exchange rate was thus 72 per cent, although the latter remained higher at 176.75 pesos if we add the surcharges of 65 per cent for buyers. Among the unofficial but legal alternative exchange rates, the CCL climbed to 165 pesos from 164.75 pesos the previous Friday while the MEP rose from 58.09 pesos the previous Friday to 160.20 pesos yesterday. Country risk increased sharply during the week, from 1,469 points the previous Friday to 1,502 points yesterday, close to the level of two weeks ago.


The Anti-Corruption Office (OA), headed by Félix Crous, denounced former President Mauricio Macri for embezzlement and possible money laundering, as well as “the malicious omission” of nearly half of its holdings in his blind trust when he took office. The case, which falls under federal judge María Servini de Cubría, could potentially see Macri sentenced to up to two years in prison and banned from public office for life.


Prestigious neurologist Facundo Manes on Wednesday met with the Radical National Committee headed by party president Alfredo Cornejo amid growing noise of “Draft Manes” among opposition circles for his mid-term candidacy. Manes left the door open. After the meeting, the leader of the parliamentary group of the lower house Juntos por el Cambio, Mario Negri (Radical-Córdoba), said: “It was a great dialogue”. Governors Gerardo Morales (Jujuy) and Rodolfo Suárez (Mendoza) and Senator Martín Lousteau were present among others.


Last Tuesday, Alberto Fernández skipped the inauguration of a highway in Pergamino for fear of protests from angry farmers, although government sources insisted that other priorities related to public health issues kept him in. the national capital. Rather, the inauguration was headed by Ministers Gabriel Katopodis (Public Works) and Eduardo “Wado” De Pedro (Interior). President Fernández visited Salta last Thursday to mark the bicentenary of the death of the gaucho hero of the War of Independence Martín Miguel de Güemes and there he received the protests of dozens of demonstrators (many without face masks) him saying to “go away”. Radical governor of Jujuy, Gerardo Morales, called protesters “annoyed” the gauchos. “


President Alberto Fernández and former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, who now chairs the center-right opposition party PRO, held a legal mediation meeting yesterday, but the president is continuing his defamation trial. No details of the confidential meeting held virtually were released to the press. President Fernández has taken Bullrich to court over charges the government attempted to bribe a Pfizer vaccine deal.


Beef tycoon Alberto Samid had an anti-Semitic explosion last Monday, responding to Israeli complaints about the beef export ban with retaliation: “The best thing that can happen to us is that the Jews don’t buy us any more beef. The world does not want to sell them anything, they are disastrous customers. A few weeks ago, Samid (currently under house arrest) took issue with businessmen Marcos Galperín, Gustavo Grobocopatel and Hugo Sigman, all of Jewish origin, saying: “The first two made all their money here. and then went to live in Uruguay, the other rat gives our shots to the gringos. ”While generally against selling meat to Jews, Samid ironically conceded that they might deserve a suckling pig.


The nationwide cold snap, including near-freezing temperatures in that city, saw Cordoba’s first snowfall in 14 years last Tuesday with white blanket descending similarly over parts of San Luis, La Rioja and Tucumán. The last time it snowed in Cordoba, it was also the last time that it snowed in this city for the first time since 1917 – on the Independence Day of July 9, 2007. There were still temperatures. lower in mountainous areas with La Quiaca at the Bolivian border 7.4 degrees. below zero.

clashes at COPA AMERICA

Argentina kicked off Uruguay in the Copa América tournament in Brazil at press time yesterday, following a disappointing 1-1 draw with Chile on Monday. Superstar Lionel Messi gave Argentina the lead with a brilliant free kick in the 33rd minute but Chile equalized with a penalty in the 57th minute (shot by Arturo Vidal and converted to the rebound by Eduardo Vargas).

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Buenos Aires Hours | Venezuela’s Maduro pleads for foreign capital, Biden gives interview

Sitting on a gilded Louis XVI chair in his office in Miraflores, a sprawling neo-baroque palace in northwest Caracas, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro projects unperturbed confidence.

The country, he said in an 85-minute interview with Bloomberg Television, has freed itself from “irrational, extremist and cruel” American oppression. Russia, China, Iran and Cuba are allies, its internal opposition is powerless. If Venezuela suffers from a bad image, it is because of a well-funded campaign to demonize it and its socialist government.

The flight is predictable. But between his denunciations of Yankee imperialism, Maduro, who allowed dollars to flow and private businesses to flourish, launches a public plea and targets it directly against Joe Biden. The message: it’s time to strike a deal.

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, is under capital and is desperate to regain access to global debt and commodities markets after two decades of anti-capitalist transformation and four years of crippling US sanctions. The country is failing, its infrastructure is collapsing and the lives of millions of people are a struggle for survival.

“If Venezuela cannot produce and sell oil, cannot produce and sell its gold, cannot produce and sell its bauxite, cannot produce iron, and so on. is it supposed to pay the Venezuelan bondholders? Maduro, 58, says his palms turned in appeal. “This world must change. This situation must change.

In fact, a lot has changed since Donald Trump imposed the sanctions on Caracas and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president. His explicit goal of removing Maduro from office has failed. Today, Guaidó is marginalized, Venezuelans suffer more than ever and Maduro remains firmly in power. “I am here in this presidential palace! he notes.

However, there has been little of the one thing urgently needed to end the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian disaster: a compromise – from Maduro, from his opposition, from Washington.

Maduro hopes an agreement to ease sanctions will open the floodgates to foreign investment, create jobs and reduce poverty. It might even secure his legacy as a torchbearer of Chavism, the particular mark of left-wing nationalism in Venezuela.

“Venezuela will become the land of opportunity,” he said. “I call on American investors not to be left behind.

In recent months, Democrats including Gregory Meeks, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Representative Jim McGovern and Senator Chris Murphy, have argued that the United States should reconsider its policy. Maduro, who these days rarely leaves Miraflores or the military base where he sleeps, waits for a sign that the Biden administration is ready to negotiate.

“There hasn’t been a single positive sign,” he says. “Nothing.”

A sudden turnaround seems unlikely. With broad congressional support, the Trump administration cited Venezuela for human rights violations, rigged elections, drug trafficking, bribery and currency manipulation. The sanctions he imposed on Maduro, his wife, dozens of officials and state-owned companies remain in place. While Biden’s policy of restoring democracy with “free and fair elections” is particularly different from Trump’s, the United States still views Guaidó Venezuela as the rightful leader of Guaidó Venezuela.

Maduro gave up some ground. In recent weeks, he has moved six leaders – including five US citizens – from prison to house arrest, granted the political opposition two of the five seats on the council responsible for national elections, and allowed the World Food Program to enter. the country.

The opposition, although fragmented, is talking about participating in the next round of elections in November. Norway is trying to facilitate talks between the two parties. Henrique Capriles, a key leader who lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential vote, has said it is time for winner-takes-all politics.

“There are people on Maduro’s side who have also noticed that the existential conflict is not good for their positions, because there is no way the country will recover economically,” he said, taking the time. of a visit to the impoverished region of Valles del Tuy Region outside of Caracas. “I imagine the government is under strong internal pressure.”

Venezuela’s economy was already in shambles by the time Maduro took office. His predecessor, Hugo Chávez, spent hugely and created huge inefficiencies with a Byzantine program of price controls, subsidies, and nationalization of hundreds of businesses.

“When Chávez came to power, there were four steps to take to export a container of chocolate,” says Jorge Redmond, general manager of the family-owned Chocolates El Rey, in his sales office in the Caracas district of La Urbina. “Today there are 90 steps and 19 ministries involved.”

Once the richest country in South America, Venezuela is now one of the poorest. Inflation has been around 2,300% per year. By some estimates, the economy has shrunk by 80% in nine years – the deepest depression in modern history.

The signs of degradation are everywhere. At the Foreign Office in downtown Caracas, most of the lights are off and signs on the toilet doors say “No water.” Central Bank employees bring their own toilet paper.

Across the country, blackouts are daily. In Caracas, the metro barely works and gangs rule barrios. Some 5.4 million Venezuelans, or one-fifth of the population, have fled abroad, causing tensions across the continent. The border with Colombia is a lawless no man’s land. Cuba, of all places, has provided humanitarian aid.

Sanctions against Venezuela date back to the presidency of George W. Bush. In 2017, the Trump administration banned access to U.S. financial markets, then banned trading in Venezuelan debt and doing business with state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela or PDVSA.

The offensive was brutally effective, accelerating the economic collapse. Last year, Venezuelan oil production fell to 410,000 barrels per day, the lowest in more than a century. According to the government, 99% of the country’s export earnings have been wiped out.

All the while, Maduro was working backwards, trying to start negotiations with the United States. He sent his foreign minister to one meeting at Trump Tower in New York and his brother, then communications minister, to another in Mexico City.

Maduro says he almost had a one-on-one with Trump himself at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018. The White House, he recalls, called to make arrangements, but broke up the contact. Maduro blames the foreign policy hawks in Trump’s orbit, many of whom are enslaved to Venezuelan expats in Florida.

“The pressures were unbearable for him,” he said. “If we had met, the story might be different.

A former bus driver and union leader, Maduro has proven to be an accomplished survivor. He defeated his rivals to cement control of the United Sociality Party after Chávez’s death in 2013, withstood the attacks of 2018 and 2019, and outlived Trump.

Guaidó, who worked closely with the US campaign to oust Maduro, was forced to shift strategy from regime change to negotiations.

“I support any effort to organize free and fair elections,” Guaidó said at his makeshift offices east of Caracas, surrounded by unofficial, state-by-state counts of Covid-19 cases. “Venezuela is exhausted, not just the democratic alternative but the dictatorship, the whole country.”

If Maduro feels the heat, he doesn’t show it. Several times a week, often for up to 90 minutes, he appears on state television to detonate the “economic blockade” and swear his bondage to popular power. Populist theatricality conveys a carefully scripted narrative: Venezuela’s sovereignty, dignity and right to self-determination are violated by the immoral abuse of financial power.

During the interview, Maduro insists he won’t budge if the United States continues to point a proverbial weapon at his head. Any request for a change in domestic policy is a “game over”.

“We would become a colony, we would become a protectorate,” he said. “No country in the world – no country, let alone Venezuela – is ready to kneel down and betray its heritage.”

The reality, as any Venezuelan knows, is that Maduro has already been forced to make significant concessions. Guided by Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez and her advisor Patricio Rivera, former Ecuadorian Minister of the Economy, he removed price controls, reduced subsidies, abandoned restrictions on imports, let the bolivar float freely against the dollar and created incentives for private investment.

Rural areas continue to suffer, but in Caracas the impact has been dramatic. Customers no longer have to pay with stacks of tickets and the far from bare supermarket aisles are often crowded.

Maduro even passed a law full of guarantees for private investors.

The reforms are so orthodox that they could be mistaken for an International Monetary Fund stabilization program, barely the makings of Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution. Maduro replies that they are tools of a “war economy”. Of course, dollarization has been “a useful escape valve” for consumers and businesses, but it and other reluctant nods to capitalism are temporary.

“Sooner or later, the bolivar will once again occupy a strong and preponderant role in the economic and commercial life of the country,” he said.

Not so long ago, the United States viewed Venezuela as a strategic ally. Exxon Mobil Corp, ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corp had significant stakes in the country’s oil industry and refineries in Texas and Louisiana were re-equipped to process heavy crude from the Orinoco Belt. Wealthy Venezuelans traveled to Miami so often that they spoke of it as a second home.

All that changed when Chavez was elected in 1998. He expropriated billions of dollars in US oil assets and forged alliances with socialists in Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Maduro went further, embracing Washington’s most menacing enemies. He calls the relationship with Russia “extraordinary” and sends a birthday card to Chinese President Xi Jinping. It’s a mockery for Biden: Keep mistreating Venezuela and you’ll be dealing with another Castro, not a leader who still has hopes for a win-win deal.

Guests at the VIP lounge at Simón Bolivar International Airport recalled Venezuela’s new friendships. Three clocks mounted in a vertical row indicated the time in Caracas, Moscow and Beijing.

Asked in the interview what they mean, Maduro replies that “the world of the future is in Asia”. But an idea crosses his mind. Perhaps, he said, there should also be clocks for New Delhi, Madrid and New York.

The following afternoon, there are in fact six clocks on the living room wall. In this country, Maduro is still all-powerful.

Except for one thing: like so many others in Venezuela, the clocks don’t work.

by Erik Schatzker, Patricia Laya & Alex Vasquez, Bloomberg

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