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Oil

  • Oil prices went haywire yesterday, with some near-term futures contracts falling below zero for the first time ever: in some cases, sellers were paying buyers $37.63/barrel to take oil off their hands next Tuesday. U.S. oil fared the worst—largely because U.S. storage tanks are full and there’s nothing sellers can do with excess production except sell it at whatever price they can get. There must still be storage capacity globally, since Brent futures weren’t down nearly as much.

COVID-19

  • The WHO dispelled rumors that the novel coronavirus came out of Wuhan’s Level 4 biohazard lab, saying: “All available evidence suggests the virus has an animal origin and is not a manipulated or constructed virus in a lab or somewhere else.”

  • Yesterday Chile became the first country to start issuing coronavirus “immunity passports” that let people who’ve already recovered from COVID-19 return to work. However, critics worry that infection might not necessarily confer immunity: first, there seem to be multiple strains of this coronavirus, and immunity to one might not prevent infection with another. In addition, some viruses don’t confer immunity at all—and there are even other viruses for which previous infections make subsequent ones worse. It’s not clear which case applies for SARS CoV-2.

U.S.

  • Pres. Trump said he would use an executive order to suspend nearly all immigration to the U.S. while the economy recovers from coronavirus lockdowns, lest smart foreigners take our jobs. Unemployment is indeed high—with 22 million new claims during this pandemic—but many of those who are unemployed work in industries that were shut down due to lockdowns, like restaurants and tourism.

  • Congress has reportedly reached a deal on an additional $450 billion package for small businesses, hospitals, and coronavirus testing. Details haven’t been released yet.

Venezuela

  • Reuters reports that representatives of Presidents Maduro and Guaido are holding secret talks. The talks don’t have a clear agenda, but the mere fact that they’re happening shows progress—the two sides haven’t been speaking for months. The article pasted below has more.

Israel

  • At long last, Benny Gantz and PM Netanyahu agreed to form a government together. That means Israel will be spared a fourth election in a 12-month period.

Afghanistan

  • Pres. Ghani tested negative for COVID-19, even though between 12 and 40 (estimates vary) of his palace staff has tested positive. Ghani will continue to self-isolate and conduct meetings by teleconference, as he was doing before the palace cases were discovered.

  • The Afghan government released 71 more Taliban prisoners.

  • An explosion targeted a convoy carrying the governor of Khost in Kabul. Five people were injured, but none were killed. Neither the Taliban nor Islamic State has claimed the attack yet.

North Korea

  • U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies are looking into the rumor that Kim Jong Un is in critical condition—and perhaps incapacitated—after heart surgery. However, some South Korean analysts say Kim is actually doing fine and recovering from the surgery quite well (they don’t dispute that he had surgery, and that’s probably why he missed last week’s holiday celebrations).

  • If Kim is incapacitated or dies, the U.S. reportedly plans to call on China to step in and prevent a mass exodus of North Korean refugees into China.

Exclusive: Venezuela Socialists, opposition leaders begin secret talks amid pandemic – sources (Reuters)

Allies of both Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his bitter foe, opposition leader Juan Guaido, have secretly begun exploratory talks as concerns grow about the possible impact of coronavirus, according to sources on both sides.

The discussions emerged from concerns about COVID-19, hyperinflation and growing fuel shortages, as well as worries among some members of the ruling Socialist Party about how to ensure their political survival under a possible change of government as Washington tightens sanctions, the sources said.

The talks, which have no clear agenda, show that allies of both Maduro and Guaido remain unconvinced that they can defeat the other amid a global pandemic and a broad U.S. sanctions program meant to push Maduro from office.

“There are two extremes: Maduro and those who believe that the virus will end Guaido’s leadership, and those on the other side (who) hope this crisis will bring down Maduro,” said an opposition legislator in favor of the rapprochement.

“I think we have to find solutions.”

Reuters was unable to determine when the talks began, where or how they are taking place, and how Maduro and Guaido view them. Seven sources, who represent both sides of Venezuela’s deep political divide, confirmed the talks.

Maduro and Guaido are competing with one another to help combat the effects of the pandemic, with each side convinced the outbreak will undermine the other politically, said the sources, who asked not to be identified.

Activists and rights groups around the world have urged the two factions to seek a truce in order to coordinate the delivery of aid and boost gasoline imports.

The U.S. State Department in March offered to begin lifting parts of the sanctions if members of the Socialist Party form an interim government without Maduro, a plan backed by Guaido but quickly shot down by the government.

Venezuela’s information ministry and Guaido’s press team did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the current talks.

Maduro has frequently said he is willing to hold dialogue.

“We are ready for dialogue, to understand one another and reach a humanitarian agreement to attend to the coronavirus (pandemic),” Maduro said during a televised broadcast over the weekend, without making reference to any specific set of talks.

Guaido, head of the national assembly who assumed an interim presidency last year after disavowing Maduro’s 2018 re-election, is recognized by the United States and more than 50 countries as the nation’s legitimate leader. But other powers such as China and Russia still back Maduro.

One source linked to the government acknowledged the talks were going on.

“There are proposals coming and going” between Maduro allies and members of the four principal opposition parties, said the source.

“There are approaches,” said one opposition deputy who is aware of the discussions. “There are key elements in the government that want to negotiate their salvation.”

The two sides last year participated in a dialogue brokered by Norway in which the opposition had pressed for a new presidential election. But Maduro’s side walked away from the process in protest at U.S. sanctions.

Maduro assures his government has controlled the coronavirus outbreak in Venezuela with the support of China, while Guaido accuses him of using the pandemic as an excuse for disastrous economic policies.

Venezuela as of Monday had reported 285 coronavirus infections. The United Nations has called it one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the virus due to the lack of soap and water in hospitals and the overall impoverishment of the population.

Guaido, who controls Venezuelan government funds held in offshore accounts, is seeking to provide $20 million to the Pan American Health Organization to acquire supplies, according to three sources.

But Maduro’s government is aiming to block the operation via the United Nations, which still recognizes his government.

The Venezuelan offices of the Pan American Health Organization and the United Nations did not respond to request for comment.

Guaido has offered to pay $100 per month to doctors and nurses with the help of the Organization of American States, a mechanism that has not yet started.



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