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Venezuela military stands behind controversial vote
By Alexander MARTINEZ
Caracas (AFP) July 19, 2017

U.S. impact possible with Venezuelan oil ban
Washington (UPI) Jul 21, 2017 - If the U.S. government opts for a ban on crude oil imports from Venezuela, it would likely disrupt markets along the U.S Gulf Coast, analysis finds.

U.S. President Donald Trump this week vowed to put economic pressure on Venezuela in response to President Nicolas Maduro's crackdown on his opponents. "All options" are on the table, including a ban on imports of crude oil from Venezuela, the U.S. government said.

A member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the export ban would be a blow to the Venezuelan economy as energy represents about 95 percent of its export economy. An April estimate from the International Monetary Fund found that gross domestic product in Venezuela has declined by about 25 percent over the last three years.

According to the World Bank, Venezuela is facing major economic challenges already.

Rick Joswick, managing director of oil markets for PIRA Energy Group, said a full ban on exports could have a negative impact on the U.S. refining market.

Venezuela is the third-largest exporter of crude oil to the United States, behind Canada and Saudi Arabia. The four-year average for Venezuelan imports by the United States is down 6 percent from last year, while imports from Canada, the No. 1 oil supplier to the U.S. market, are up 11.4 percent.

Joswick said that Gulf Coast refinery market is in flux as it is and some refineries there last year imported more crude oil from Venezuela than any other one in the United States.

"We're out of balance right now and [sanctions] would make us more out of balance," he said in a report emailed to UPI.

Refiners would likely adjust, however, if the U.S. government takes a softer stance by imposing a duty on Venezuelan oil imports.

Outside of the direct impact to the Americas, the ban could have a spillover effect on the appetite among OPEC members to draw down production figures in an effort to offset supply-side strains left over from last year.

Venezuela is the sixth-larger producer among OPEC members, pumping 1.9 million barrels per day in June.

Venezuela's military reaffirmed its loyalty to President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday by saying its forces would protect a controversial vote he has called for next week to elect a body to rewrite the constitution.

The declaration, read out by Maduro's defense minister, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, marked another official rejection of a threat by President Donald Trump to impose economic sanctions on Venezuela if the vote proceeds.

Padrino Lopez said Venezuela's armed forces, which he controls as operational commander, recognize the "legitimate nature" of Maduro's plan to have a body called a constituent assembly elected.

"As such, soldiers will deploy on July 30 across all the national territory... to guarantee the complete exercise of the right to vote by all Venezuelans," he said.

Venezuela's opposition, which held a symbolic election last weekend in which more than a third of the country's voters rejected Maduro's plan, says the constituent assembly is a way for the president to hold on to power through "Cuba-like" dictatorial measures.

- Nationwide strike -

Trump on Monday warned of unspecified "strong and swift economic actions" if the vote goes ahead, calling Maduro "a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator."

The UN, EU, the Organization of American States and major Latin American nations have also condemned the constituent assembly initiative.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet told Argentina's daily La Nacion she feared the showdown between Maduro's government and the opposition "could lead to even greater instability... there is always a risk of arriving at a more violent path."

Negotiations were needed to avoid that, she said.

But Maduro on Tuesday said the controversial step would go ahead -- "now more than ever" after Trump's threat -- and that "conspirators" in the country trying to stop it would be punished.

His labor minister, Nestor Ovalles, warned that companies in Venezuela that joined a 24-hour, nationwide strike on Thursday called by the opposition would be "sanctioned."

There is a risk that the unyielding campaigns by Maduro and the opposition could worsen the bloodshed Venezuela has suffered since April, when anti-government protests turned violent, with nearly 100 people killed.

Demonstrations continue, and on Tuesday a truck was set ablaze in a Caracas avenue during a protest.

Government prosecutors also said on Twitter that a man died in the northeastern state of Anzoategui when he was "burned during a demonstration," but gave no details or date of the alleged incident.

- 'Firm' military -

Maduro chaired a meeting of his Defense Council on Tuesday to prepare responses to the threatened US action.

Venezuela is deep in the grip of an economic crisis brought on in part by low global prices for oil -- its main export and pillar of its finances.

Around a third of the country's crude production is exported to the US, and a White House official on Tuesday said "all options are on the table" to punish Maduro if the election goes ahead.

While Maduro is widely unpopular -- 70 percent of Venezuelans reject his leadership, according to the polling firm Datanalisis -- and the congress is controlled by the opposition, he holds onto power in large part because of the military's support.

The opposition has tried to split military chiefs away to their side. But those efforts have been in vain, possibly because the military enjoys control over vast swaths of the economy.

Padrino Lopez, who has more power than any other minister in Maduro's cabinet, stressed that "we are going to remain firm."

He was especially scathing of the EU's top diplomatic official, Federica Mogherini, who has urged Maduro to drop his constituent assembly plan.

"The obvious bias and dark threats from this official are outrageous," the general said, accusing Mogherini of bowing down to the "extremist elite" in charge in the United States and of accepting opposition "propaganda" concerning its vote.

Sucking up spilt oil
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 18, 2017
Spilt crude oil has repeatedly polluted and even destroyed marine ecosystems. An effective measure would be to remove spilt oil slicks by absorption into a separable solid phase. As Indian scientists now report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, congelation of the oil to a rigid gel within impregnated cellulose and scooping the particles out is possible. Marine oil spills are disasters that ... read more

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