VENEZUELA: Countries around the world are increasingly taking sides as Venezuela’s economic and political crisis deepens. Yesterday, U.S. President Donald Trump said that “all options are on the table” regarding Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, a day after thousands of Venezuelans protested against Maduro in Caracas. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged all countries in the Americas to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. In response, Maduro ordered all Venezuelan diplomats out of the United States and closed the embassy.
Amid the turmoil, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Maduro on the phone to offer his support, and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the United States’ support for Guaidó a “quasi-coup.” China, which has lent almost $50 billion to Venezuela in the last 10 years, also expressed opposition to outside interference in Venezuela.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
UNITED STATES: Two measures to end the government shutdown failed in the Senate last night, sending lawmakers scrambling to find a solution. The first bill contained President Donald Trump’s proposal to spend $5.7 billion to fund the border wall. The other bill, backed by Democrats and a half-dozen Republicans, omitted the wall funding. Neither measure received the needed 60 votes to advance. Today, about 800,000 federal workers will miss their second consecutive paycheck due to the partial shutdown.
MEXICO: A witness testified Wednesday that Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, played an important role in his well-known escape from prison in 2015. Dámaso López Nuñez, a former lieutenant for Guzmán, said Coronel helped facilitate communication between her husband and his sons and gave messages to López and others. Throughout the Brooklyn trial, which began in mid-November, Coronel has remained quiet in the courtroom, even as her husband’s mistress testified about their escape from authorities through a sewage tunnel in 2014.
MEXICO: The death toll in the Mexico pipeline explosion last week has reached 99 after four more people died in hospitals. Several other victims are in poor condition. The explosion occurred when fuel thieves punctured the pipeline amid an oil shortage in the country. The crisis has become the first major domestic obstacle for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who closed down some pipelines to prevent oil theft, causing the shortage. In a press conference earlier this week, AMLO steered clear from blaming the victims for breaking the law, instead saying, “if they arrived at these extremes, these practices, it’s because they were completely abandoned” by the state.
PUERTO RICO: Gov. Ricardo Rosselló offered relief from electric bills and bus fare yesterday for 4,500 federal workers on the island who have not been paid during the partial government shutdown. These workers can also apply for unemployment and food benefits, and the Economic Development Bank may give out low interest microloans. Rosselló also warned that stalled positions in the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have slowed efforts to rebuild from Hurricane Maria.
NICARAGUA: Riot police took to the streets this week to preempt demonstrations while the government is receiving members of the European Parliament. The representatives from Europe will be there for several days, meeting with President Daniel Ortega and his allies as well as the opposition, journalists, civil society groups and religious organizations. Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo had canceled the visit but retracted under pressure from the European Union. Despite buzz on social media, there were no protests.
PANAMÁ: Pope Francis spoke on behalf of young people who are fed up with corrupt leaders during World Youth Day festivities yesterday. The Central American nation’s GDP has lost a percentage point to corruption during former president Ricardo Martinelli’s term, according to NGO research. Martinelli’s sons are suspected of taking bribes from the Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht. The Pope lamented the burden of violence on young people and asked church organizations to welcome migrants and the poor.
PERU: Former President Alberto Fujimori was transferred from a Lima hospital to prison Wednesday night, hours after he said the return would kill him. Fujimori, 80, will finish serving his 25-year sentence for his role in the deaths of 25 people during his 10-year rule. Former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pardoned Fujimori in 2017, but the supreme court overruled the pardon in October.
BRAZIL: Jean Wyllys, an openly gay congressman who has clashed with far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, said he is leaving his job and his country with no plans to return. Wyllys, who represents Rio de Janeiro, was re-elected in October and was set to begin his new term in February. He told the newspaper Folha de São Paulo that death threats against him have increased since Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver were shot to death in March. Franco, who was also gay, was a friend of Wyllys and an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights. Wyllys will be replaced by David Miranda, a member of the Rio de Janeiro city council.