Archive for ‘Venezuela’

29/05/2019

China looks to Russia, Central Asia for support amid tensions with US

  • President Xi Jinping will meet Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next month and address economic summit in St Petersburg
  • Diplomatic flurry will also include regional security forums in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
Xi Jinping has met Vladimir Putin more times than any other foreign leader since he took power in 2013. Photo: AFP
Xi Jinping has met Vladimir Putin more times than any other foreign leader since he took power in 2013. Photo: AFP
Beijing is stepping up efforts to seek support from regional and global players such as Russia and Central Asian nations as its geostrategic rivalry with Washington heats up.

President Xi Jinping is expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next month, when he will also address the St Petersburg International Economic Summit,

Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told state-run TASS news agency earlier.

The Chinese president will also visit the Kyrgyzstan capital Bishkek for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in June, as well as another regional security forum in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Wang Qishan is visiting Pakistan before he heads to the Netherlands and Germany, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan meets Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan in Islamabad on Sunday. Photo: AFP
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan meets Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan in Islamabad on Sunday. Photo: AFP
The latest flurry of diplomatic activity comes as competition between China and the US intensifies on several fronts including trade and technology, the South China Sea and the Arctic, where Beijing’s partnership with Moscow –

funding and building ports, berths and icebreakers off Russia’s shores

– has drawn criticism from Washington.

It will be Xi’s second time at the St Petersburg forum, and observers expect the Chinese leader will reaffirm Beijing’s commitment to multilateralism and promote the nation as a champion of openness and cooperation.
China-Russia ties unrivalled, Beijing warns before Pompeo meets Putin
It will also be his second meeting with Putin in two months, after talks on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in late April, when the Russian president

offered his support

for the controversial China-led infrastructure and investment initiative.

With China and Russia edging closer, the latest meeting is likely to see efforts to coordinate their strategies on a range of issues – including Venezuela, North Korea, nuclear weapons and arms control, according to observers. Xi has met Putin more times than any other foreign leader since he took power in 2013.

“This time it is very likely that the latest anti-China moves by the US, such as new tariffs and the Huawei ban, will feature prominently in their conversations,” said Artyom Lukin, an associate professor at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.

Lukin said Russia’s stagnating economy and sanctions imposed by the West limited its role as a substitute for the foreign markets and technologies China could lose access to because of the US crusade. But he said Putin would “provide political and moral support to Xi”.

“That is also significant as Russia has been withstanding intense US-led sanctions pressure for more than five years already,” Lukin said, referring to sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Xi and Putin are also expected to talk about Venezuela, where US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido is attempting to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has the support of China and Russia.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has the backing of China and Russia. Photo: AP
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has the backing of China and Russia. Photo: AP

“Moscow and Beijing are not able to seriously hurt Washington by raising tariffs or denying access to high technology. However, there are plenty of areas where coordinated Sino-Russian policies can damage US interests in the short term or in the long run,” Lukin said. “For example, Moscow and Beijing could intensify their joint support for the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro, frustrating Washington’s efforts to dislodge him.”

China and Russia would also be seeking to boost economic ties. Bilateral trade, dominated by Chinese imports of gas and oil, reached US$108 billion last year – falling far short of the target set in 2011 by Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, of US$200 billion by 2020.

China and Russia to forge stronger Eurasian economic ties

Li Lifan, an associate research professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said bilateral trade was a sticking point. “This is one of the potential hindrances in China-Russia relations and Beijing is hoping to [address this] … in the face of a possible global economic slowdown,” Li said.

Given the escalating trade war with Washington, he said China would seek to diversify its investments and markets to other parts of the world, particularly Russia and Europe.

“China will step up its investment cooperation with Europe and Russia and focus more on multilateral investment,” Li said.

But Beijing was not expected to do anything to worsen tensions with Washington.

“China is currently taking a very cautious approach towards the US, trying to avoid heating up the confrontation and further aggravation of the situation,” said Danil Bochkov, a contributing author with the Russian International Affairs Council. “For China it is important to demonstrate that it has a reliable friend – Russia – but that should not be done in an openly provocative manner.”

Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, said Beijing and Moscow would also seek to contain US influence “as far as possible” from Central Asia, where China has increased its engagement through infrastructure building under the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

Leaders from the region will gather in Bishkek next month for the SCO summit, a security bloc set up in 2001 that now comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. Those members account for about 23 per cent of the world’s land mass, 45 per cent of its population, and 25 per cent of global GDP.

Newly re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could meet the Chinese president for talks in Bishkek next month. Photo: EPA-EFE
Newly re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could meet the Chinese president for talks in Bishkek next month. Photo: EPA-EFE

There is growing speculation that Xi will meet newly re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of that summit.

Independent analyst and author Namrata Goswami said India would be seeking a commitment to a WTO-led and rules-based multilateral trading system during the SCO talks.

“This is interesting and significant given the current US tendencies under President Donald Trump focused on ‘America first’ and the US-China trade war,” Goswami said.

Counterterrorism will again be a top priority at the SCO summit, amid concerns among member states about the rising number of Islamic State fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. Chinese scholars estimated last year that around 30,000 jihadists who had fought in Syria had gone back to their home countries, including China.

Alexander Bortnikov, chief of the main Russian intelligence agency FSB, said earlier that 5,000 fighters from a group affiliated with Isis had gathered in areas bordering former Soviet states in Central Asia, saying most of them had fought alongside Isis in Syria.

War-torn Afghanistan, which shares a border with four SCO member states – China, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – is also likely to be high on the agenda at the Bishkek summit.

“With the Trump administration drafting plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the SCO will assess the security situation there and decide whether to provide training for Afghan troops,” Li said.

Eva Seiwert, a doctoral candidate at the Free University of Berlin, expected the security bloc would also discuss Iran after the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and ordered new sanctions against the country.

Iran, which has observer status with the SCO, was blocked from becoming a full member in 2008 because it was subject to UN sanctions at the time. But its membership application could again be up for discussion.

Iran presses China and Russia to save nuclear deal

“The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 made it easy for China and Russia to present themselves as the proponents of peaceful settlement of conflicts,” Seiwert said. “Discussing the possibility of admitting Iran as a full member state would help the SCO members demonstrate their support of multilateral and peaceful cooperation.

“This would be a strong signal to the US and enhance the SCO’s standing in the international community,” she said.

Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (right) meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bishkek on Tuesday last week. Photo: Xinhua
Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov (right) meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bishkek on Tuesday last week. Photo: Xinhua

As well as security, Xi’s visit to Central Asia is also likely to focus on economic ties. Meeting Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in Bishkek last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing would continue to “provide support and help national development and construction in Kyrgyzstan”.

Li said China may increase investment in the Central Asian region, especially in greenfield projects.

“China will continue to buy agriculture products from Central Asia, such as cherries from Uzbekistan, and build hydropower projects to meet local energy demand,” Li said. “Investment in solar and wind energy projects is also expected to increase too.”

Source: SCMP

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07/05/2019

Special Report – How a Chinese venture in Venezuela made millions while locals grew hungry

TUCUPITA, Venezuela (Reuters) – The project was meant to feed millions.

In Delta Amacuro, a remote Venezuelan state on the Caribbean Sea, a Chinese construction giant struck a bold agreement with the late President Hugo Chavez. The state-run firm would build new bridges and roads, a food laboratory, and the largest rice-processing plant in Latin America.

The 2010 pact, with China CAMC Engineering Co Ltd , would develop rice paddies twice the size of Manhattan and create jobs for the area’s 110,000 residents, according to a copy of the contract seen by Reuters.

The underdeveloped state was an ideal locale to demonstrate the Socialist Venezuelan government’s commitment to empower the poor. And the deal would show how Chavez and his eventual hand-picked successor, President Nicolas Maduro, could work with China and other allies to develop areas beyond Venezuela’s bounteous oil beds.

“Rice Power! Agricultural power!” Chavez tweeted at the time.

Nine years later, locals are hungry. Few jobs have materialized and the plant is only half-built, running at less than one percent its projected output. It hasn’t yielded a single grain of locally grown rice, according to a dozen people involved in or familiar with the development.

Yet CAMC and a select few Venezuelan partners prospered.

Venezuela paid CAMC at least $100 million (76 million pounds) for the stalled development, according to project contracts and sealed court documents from an investigation by prosecutors in Europe.

The thousands of pages of court papers, reviewed by Reuters, were filed in Andorra, the European principality where prosecutors allege Venezuelans involved in the project sought to launder kickbacks paid to them for helping secure the contract. The material on the China deal, reported here for the first time, includes confidential testimony, wiretap transcripts, bank records and other documents.

Last September, an Andorran high court judge alleged in an indictment that CAMC paid over $100 million in bribes to various Venezuelan intermediaries to secure the rice project and at least four other agricultural contracts.

The indictment charged 12 Venezuelans with crimes including money laundering and conspiracy to launder money. Among those indicted was Diego Salazar, a cousin of a former oil minister who, investigators say, enabled the contracts. Also indicted was the top representative in China at the time of state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA.

Sixteen people of other nationalities were also charged and at least four other Venezuelans, one of whom was formerly ambassador in Beijing and is now the country’s top diplomat in London, are under investigation, according to the documents.

The indictment, the names of those charged, and their association with Chinese companies were reported last year by El Pais, the Spanish newspaper. A Reuters review of the case files, which are still under seal in Andorra, gleans how CAMC and other Chinese companies forged ties with many of those charged and paid to win projects the companies often didn’t complete.

The result, according to prosecutors, was a far-reaching culture of kickbacks, paid through offshore accounts, in which well-connected Venezuelan intermediaries milked and ultimately crippled projects that were meant to develop neglected corners of the country.

Among other findings reported here for the first time:

• CAMC agreed to at least five agricultural projects in Venezuela, valued at about $3 billion, that it never completed.

• The company, according to contracts and project documents reviewed by Reuters, received at least half the value of the $200 million contract for the rice project and at least 40 percent of the contract value for the other four developments – a combined total of at least $1.4 billion for work it never finished.

• CAMC paid over $100 million in fees to intermediaries; prosecutors say those payments were kickbacks that helped the company win contracts in Venezuela.

Neither CAMC nor any of its executives were charged in the indictment.

In a statement, the Beijing-based company told Reuters the details and assertions in the case files include “a large number of inaccuracies,” but didn’t elaborate. The company didn’t respond to requests to speak with CAMC executives mentioned in the documents. Reuters couldn’t reach those executives independently.

“Our company operates in Venezuela in adherence to the idea of integrity and strives to complete every construction project with the best technology and management,” the statement said.

China’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement to Reuters, said “reports” about alleged bribery by Chinese companies in Venezuela “obviously distorted and exaggerated facts, with a hidden agenda.” It didn’t specify to what agenda it was referring. Cooperation between the two countries will continue, the statement read, “based on equal, mutually beneficial, and commercial principles.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry, responsible for government communications, and oil giant PDVSA, a partner in many of the contracts cited in the court case, didn’t respond to Reuters inquiries.
It isn’t clear when any of those charged could face trial. Enric Gimenez, a lawyer in Andorra for Salazar, the Venezuelan who prosecutors say brokered many of the contracts, told Reuters his client is innocent of the charges there.
The leftist regime founded by Chavez and now led by Maduro is facing its most serious threat yet. Opposition lawmakers, with the support of most Western democracies, say Maduro’s re-election last year was illegal and that Juan Guaido, head of the National Assembly, is the country’s rightful leader.
Last week, in a failed uprising, Guaido unsuccessfully sought to rally Venezuela’s military, the lynchpin of support for the unpopular government, against Maduro.
The political crisis was prompted by an economic meltdown of hyperinflation, mass unemployment and an exodus of desperate citizens. Venezuelans suffer regular shortages of food, power and water – basics that were meant to improve through projects like the one in Delta Amacuro.
The dire scarcities and dysfunctional projects, the opposition alleges, illustrate how corruption and crony capitalism helped impoverish the once-prosperous country and many of its 30 million people.
After an ambitious 2007 agreement between China and Venezuela, Chinese companies were announced as partners in billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure and other projects. Since then, China invested over $50 billion in Venezuela, mostly in the form of oil-for-loan agreements, government figures show.
In a 2017 speech, Maduro said 790 projects with Chinese companies had been contracted in sectors ranging from oil to housing to telecommunications. Of those, he said, 495 were complete. Some developments have stalled because of graft, people familiar with the projects said; others were derailed by incompetence and a lack of supervision.
In Delta Amacuro, even government officials say a mixture of both ruined the rice project. “The government abandoned it,” says Victor Meza, state coordinator for Venezuela’s rural development agency, which worked with CAMC. “Everything was lost. Everything was stolen.”
Prosecutors in Andorra, where secretive banking laws long made it a tax haven, launched their investigation into Venezuelan laundering amid a broader effort to clean up the local financial sector.
The indictment is part of a much larger case in which the prosecutors allege Venezuelan officials between 2009 and 2014 received more than $2 billion worth of “illegal commissions” from contractors, state companies, and other sources, often for enabling transactions with the government.
The payments, the indictment alleges, passed through accounts held at Banca Privada D’Andorra, a local bank known as BPA.
Andorra’s government, after the United States accused BPA of money laundering, took over the bank in 2015. Courts there since then have charged 25 former BPA employees with money laundering in a series of cases, including the one probing the Venezuela contracts. A spokeswoman for Andorra’s government declined to comment for this article.
In addition to the agricultural projects by CAMC, the Andorrans examined two power-plant projects by the company and four other power plants built by Sinohydro Corp, another state-owned Chinese engineering firm. None of those plants ever became fully operational, leaving towns near them subject to regular blackouts.
Sinohydro wasn’t charged in the indictment. The company didn’t respond to calls, emails and faxes seeking comment.
During a recent visit by Reuters to Delta Amacuro, the CAMC rice plant remained unfinished. Only one of its 10 silos, half full, held any grain. Some machinery was running, but processing rice imported from Brazil. The nearby paddies lay fallow, the laboratory incomplete, the roads and bridges unbuilt.

“WE DON’T PRODUCE ANYTHING”

Tucupita, a town of 86,000 residents, is Delta Amacuro’s capital. It hugs the banks of the Cano Manamo, an offshoot of the Orinoco, one of South America’s biggest rivers. Once, Tucupita was a stop for vessels shipping goods from inland factories to buyers in the Caribbean and beyond.

In 1965, the government dammed the Cano Manamo. Boat traffic stopped, fresh water receded and seawater seeped inland, degrading soils. By the time Chavez became president in 1999, little farming remained.

“When I was a kid, there was rice everywhere,” recalled Rogelio Rodriguez, a local agronomist. “Now we don’t produce anything.”

In 2009, Chavez and Xi Jinping, China’s vice president at the time, expanded a joint fund the countries had created with the 2007 development agreement. “Aren’t we grateful to China?” Chavez said at a ceremony with Xi at the presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital.

Promising to supply Beijing with oil “for the next 500 years,” Chavez pointed toward Delta Amacuro on a map. “Look, Xi,” he said, announcing an effort to rehabilitate the region.

In attendance were CAMC Chairman Luo Yan and Rafael Ramirez, a Chavez confidante who ran PDVSA and the oil ministry for a decade.
Soon, businesses jostled to get in on the development.
Diego Salazar, a cousin of Ramirez, was well-positioned.
Salazar’s father was a communist guerrilla and author who later became a legislator and Chavez ally. His family ties and connections to lawmakers gave the younger Salazar a valuable address book he wielded at a consulting firm he operated in Caracas.
The firm, Inverdt, was owned by a Panama-based holding company he had established called Highland Assets, according to testimony Salazar gave investigators in Andorra when they first began probing his BPA account. From an office a few blocks from PDVSA headquarters, he met often with Ramirez and other top officials, according to people familiar with his activities.
Ramirez left the ministry in 2014 and was Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations until 2017. Since then, Maduro has publicly accused him of unspecified corruption, but Ramirez wasn’t indicted in Andorra and hasn’t formally been charged with any crime in Venezuela. He now lives abroad as an opponent of the government. Ramirez didn’t respond to Reuters emails seeking comment and couldn’t be reached otherwise.
At the time of the ceremony with Xi, Chavez was making PDVSA a hub for a growing array of developments, many of them unrelated to oil. A newly created unit known as PDVSA Agricola, for instance, was tasked with boosting food supply.
The diversification made PDVSA the conduit through which contracts, and a growing sum of money administered by Venezuela’s national development bank, were awarded.
By 2010, the filings say, the bank had received $32 billion from the China Development Bank and another $6 billion from an infrastructure fund created by Chavez.
China Development Bank didn’t respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Salazar began reaching out to Chinese executives, offering his services, as a well-connected consultant, to help broker business in Venezuela. He travelled to China monthly and began paying Venezuelan officials there to forge ties with companies including CAMC.

“My work was to convince them, through meetings, trips, and promotion, to sign contracts,” Salazar told Andorran investigators.

People familiar with the case said Salazar and his alleged associates, before the indictment, agreed to testify in Andorra because they hoped to clear their names.

In his testimony, Salazar told the Andorran investigators he chose BPA as an offshore bank because he knew other wealthy Venezuelans had done so. Nestled in a quiet valley of the Pyrenees, BPA had a reputation as a discrete money manager for clients from high-risk countries.

After Andorra submitted information requests for its case to Caracas, a Venezuelan court in 2017 ordered Salazar arrested on suspicion of corruption, money laundering and conspiracy.

Citing the Andorran probe, the Venezuelan arrest order said Salazar sought to “give legal appearance to funds originating from numerous contracts with Venezuelan state institutions.” A trial date hasn’t been set and Salazar remains jailed in Caracas. A lawyer for Salazar in Venezuela denied the charges before the court.

Gimenez, Salazar’s lawyer in Andorra, in an email to Reuters said Chinese authorities decided which companies would receive funds and that neither Salazar nor his alleged intermediaries could sway that. Inverdt, Salazar’s consulting firm, offered “professional” and “technical” services to many Chinese companies, Gimenez wrote in the email, and that “only a handful of those companies were chosen to carry out works.”

One of Salazar’s intermediaries, the indictment alleged, was Francisco Jimenez, a career engineer who was PDVSA’s envoy in Beijing and who the Andorrans indicted along with Salazar. Salazar first contacted him during a trip to China in 2010, according to testimony Jimenez gave in Andorra.

That March, Jimenez signed a “strategic alliance” with Salazar to promote Inverdt in China. Under the terms of their contract, reviewed by Reuters, Salazar agreed to pay Jimenez $7.38 million in a BPA account that Inverdt helped open. Bank records in the case files show Jimenez later received another $7 million.

Jimenez, who now lives in Panama, didn’t respond to phone calls or text messages from Reuters. Salvador Capdevila, his lawyer in Andorra, declined to comment.

Another official who prosecutors say helped Salazar was Rocio Maneiro, Venezuela’s ambassador to China and now the country’s ambassador to Britain.

Maneiro wasn’t charged in the Andorran indictment; numerous court documents, including a filing by prosecutors in relation to her testimony, refer to her as “under investigation” for payments they say she received from Salazar and for her alleged role helping him make contacts with Chinese companies.

In 2010, bank records contained in the court documents show, Salazar made a transfer of $30,000 to a Chinese account in her name, citing “services provided by Mrs. Maneiro.”

Later, Salazar made deposits totalling $13 million into a BPA account owned by a Panama-based company that Maneiro, in a disclosure document linked to the account, said belonged to her. An internal report from BPA’s anti-money laundering committee, reviewed by Reuters, also listed Maneiro as its owner.

Maneiro, through a lawyer and in a text message to Reuters, denied helping Salazar and receiving payments from him. “Those are assertions with no basis,” she wrote in the message. She told an Andorran judge that the signature on the form about the Panamanian company is forged.

The court has ordered an analysis of the signature.

“A BRIEFCASE FULL OF CONTRACTS”

By early 2010, Salazar’s outreach bore fruit.

Sinohydro, the engineering firm, that March signed a $316 million contract with PDVSA to build a power plant near the city of Maracay.

In the contract, Sinohydro agreed to pay Salazar a 10 percent fee for helping it “gain a favourable and positive position to pursue the contract.” Bank records in the case files show the company paid $49 million into Salazar’s BPA account and another $72 million after Sinohydro secured additional power plant contracts from PDVSA.

Sinohydro eventually built four plants, but none met full contract specifications, engineers say. The plant near Maracay, for example, was meant to generate as much as 382 megawatts, the contract shows. Instead, the plant is producing no more than 140 megawatts, according to Jose Aguilar, a former director at Venezuela’s state power company.

Soon, Salazar’s company was earning over $100 million a year, according to testimony by him and several aides. “He had a briefcase full of contracts,” Luis Mariano Rodriguez, a Salazar deputy also charged in the indictment, told Andorran investigators.

“We made deals with every company possible,” he added. “Some of these companies never actually carried out the projects.”

Reuters was unable to reach Rodriguez, who like Salazar has been charged with money laundering and conspiracy to launder. Gimenez, Salazar’s attorney in Andorra, also represents Rodriguez, and in the email said that Rodriguez, too, is innocent.

As money poured in, Salazar splurged, paying tens of thousands of dollars for hotel stays and spending millions on gifts. For $1 million, he bought 83 Rolex and Cartier watches at a Caracas jeweller, according to an invoice in the filings. In a Rodriguez email to BPA justifying the purchase, he said the watches were “gifted to relatives and friends.”

In April 2010, Andorran police began investigating Salazar. French investigators had asked them about a recent transaction: From his BPA account, Salazar had transferred $99,980 to a Paris hotel employee as a “tip for providing services.” It’s not clear what those services were.

By May, talks for the rice project began.

That month, Rodriguez met with Wang Hong, a CAMC vice president, in Caracas, according to a contract the men signed. In the contract, they agreed that CAMC would pay Salazar’s company 10 percent of the value of the rice contract to help it “win.”

Within months, PDVSA Agricola awarded CAMC the contract, valuing the rice development at $200 million. CAMC signed another agreement with Salazar for help securing additional projects. That June, CAMC made the first of several deposits totalling $112 million to Salazar’s BPA account, bank records show.

Workers broke ground in Delta Amacuro.

By 2012, project documents show, CAMC had received $100 million from the Venezuelan development bank for the undertaking, half that agreed upon. The company shipped excavators, steamrollers and other equipment from China.

But progress was slow.

An excavator bogged down in mud and stayed there. Chinese foremen spoke little Spanish and struggled with local crews, according to engineers who worked on the project.

That November, an Andorran court, on suspicion of money laundering, froze BPA accounts of Salazar, his aide Rodriguez and six other Venezuelans. In 2013, the prosecutors began a years-long effort to interview Salazar and others.

In 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department began pressuring Andorra over alleged money laundering. In a report at the time, the Treasury wrote that BPA facilitated laundering of money from Russia, China and Venezuela.

That March, the Andorran government took over BPA.

Oil prices, which had recently exceeded $100 per barrel, that year fell by more than half. Venezuela’s economy foundered.

CAMC pulled its team of 40 employees from the rice site, people involved in the project said. Locals looted scrap abandoned by CAMC. Jobless workers sold leftover cables and lightbulbs, former managers said.

Still, Maduro has sought to make something of the unfinished project.

In February, Agriculture Minister Wilmar Castro inaugurated the “Hugo Chavez” plant, snipping a ribbon in front of rice sacks emblazoned with Venezuelan and Chinese flags. No one from CAMC attended, according to a person present at the ceremony.

Instead of machinery able to process 18 tonnes each hour, workers are packing imported rice by hand. “There’s not a gram of rice growing anywhere here,” said Mariano Montilla, a 47-year-old local who lives off the few crops he can coax from nearby scrubland.

“It seemed like a revolutionary idea,” he said of Chavez’s initial promise. “Now we’re starving.”

Source: Reuters

11/04/2019

Chinese envoy calls for political solution in Venezuela, asks to lift sanctions

UNITED NATIONS, April 10 (Xinhua) — A Chinese envoy on Wednesday called for a political solution to the Venezuela crisis and asked for the lifting of unilateral sanctions against the country.

“China calls on the Venezuelan government and opposition to seek a political solution through dialogue and consultations within the constitutional and legal framework,” Ma Zhaoxu, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told the Security Council.

China supports the Venezuelan government’s efforts to safeguard the sovereignty, independence and stability of the country and holds that Venezuelan affairs should be handled independently by the Venezuelan people themselves, said Ma.

China’s position on the Security Council’s involvement in the Venezuela issue has been consistent and clear, he said. “Our point of departure has always been to uphold the spirit of the UN Charter and the basic norms governing international relations, promote a peaceful settlement of the Venezuela issue and maintain long-term peace and development in Latin America.”

“China opposes the interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs by external forces, opposes military intervention in Venezuela and opposes the use of the so-called humanitarian issue to achieve political aims,” said Ma.

He called on relevant countries to lift unilateral sanctions against Venezuela.

History has proven repeatedly that unilateral sanctions will only further complicate situations and affect people’s everyday life. It will not help resolve problems, nor will it bring peace to a country, he said.

“On the one hand, we hear a lot of talk about care for the well-being of Venezuelans. On the other hand, we are seeing increasingly tighter sanctions on the country. They are contradictory and the motive is dubious,” said Ma.

“(We) hope that relevant countries will promptly lift unilateral sanctions against Venezuela, create normal conditions for its economic and social development, and lend help and support to the country in accordance with the basic principles of UN humanitarian assistance.”

He asked the international community to contribute positively to Venezuela’s peace, stability and development.

The peace and stability of Venezuela are in the fundamental interests of the country and its people, and serve the common interests of all parties, Ma said. “We hope the international community will do things that are truly conducive to the stability, economic development, and improved livelihood in Venezuela.”

Under the condition of respect for the sovereignty of Venezuela, the international community should provide constructive assistance to the country and promote a smooth settlement of relevant issues as soon as possible, he said.

The Chinese ambassador said China will continue its cooperation with Venezuela on the basis of mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit, and common development.

To help Venezuelan people overcome temporary difficulties, China has decided to provide emergency supplies for livelihood to Venezuela, said Ma.

Relevant supplies are on their way to Venezuela in batches. On March 29, the first batch of medicines and medical supplies were delivered to the Venezuelan government, he said.

China’s assistance to Venezuela is in keeping with its long-held principles for foreign aid. It is intended to help Venezuelan people overcome negative impacts caused by external interferences and sanctions with no political conditions attached, said the Chinese ambassador.

Source: Xinhua

13/02/2019

No talks between China and Venezuela opposition Beijing says, instead it’s ‘fake news’

  • Wall Street Journal report dismissed as false
  • Chinese spokeswoman repeats call for dialogue to resolve the Venezuelan crisis
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 February, 2019, 5:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 February, 2019, 5:57pm

China has dismissed a newspaper report that its diplomats held talks with the political opposition in Venezuela to protect its investments in the Latin American country as “fake news”.

The Wall Street Journal said the diplomats, concerned about oil projects in Venezuela and almost US$20 billion that Caracas owes Beijing, had held talks in Washington with representatives of Juan Guaido, the opposition leader heading US-backed efforts to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

 

“In fact the report is false. It’s fake news,” Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the article.

Venezuela’s “affairs” should be resolved via dialogue, Hua said, reiterating China’s previous stance.

Guaido invoked a constitutional provision to assume the presidency three weeks ago, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was a sham.

Most Western countries, including the United States, have recognised Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, but Maduro retains the backing of Russia and China as well as control of state institutions including the military.

China has lent more than $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade, securing energy supplies for its fast-growing economy.

 

A change in government in Venezuela would favour the country’s two main foreign creditors, Russia and China, Guaido said in an interview last month.

Source: SCMP

29/01/2019

China says U.S. should bear consequences of Venezuela sanctions

BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States should bear responsibility for the consequences of its sanctions on Venezuela, China said on Tuesday, after Washington imposed sweeping restrictions on Venezuelan state-owned oil firm PDVSA.

The latest U.S. sanctions announced on Monday appear to be aimed at pressuring President Nicolas Maduro to step down and to build on the momentum that has mounted in recent weeks against him at home and abroad.

Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader who proclaimed himself interim president last week with U.S. backing, and who is supported by most Western countries, says Maduro stole his re-election and must resign to allow new, fair polls.

China has said it opposes unilateral sanctions.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said historical experience showed foreign interference “only makes situations more complicated”.

“The relevant country’s sanctions on Venezuela will lead to the deterioration of conditions of people’s lives,” Geng told a regular news briefing in Beijing, referring to the United States.

“They should bear responsibility for the serious consequences from this,” he said.

China has lent more than $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade, securing energy supplies for its fast-growing economy.

But the financing dried up as the South American country’s economy began spiralling downward in 2015, pressured by plummeting oil prices.

The Trump administration had long held off targeting Venezuela’s oil sector for fear that it would hurt U.S. refiners and raise oil prices for Americans. White House officials had also expressed concern about inflicting further hardship on the Venezuelan people.

Source: Reuters

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