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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF


China

  • Walmart said it was working together with Microsoft on a potential bid for TikTok, which would be quite a divergence for the big retailer. A deal for TikTok is likely to be announced in the coming days—whether or not Walmart is involved.

Venezuela

  • A new Human Rights Watch report agreed with earlier reports that Venezuela is using COVID-19 as cover to arbitrarily detain dissidents and advance its police state. A Guardian article about that is pasted below.

Libya

  • The GNA accused Khalifa Haftar’s forces of violating the ceasefire, but that’s a bit disingenuous: Haftar’s side made it clear they had never agreed to a ceasefire in the first place.

  • Separately, LNA authorities in Tripoli ordered a 24-hour curfew to try to quell anti-government protests over corruption and shortages of power and water.

Middle East

  • SecState Pompeo is in Bahrain trying to convince King Hamad to normalize relations with Israel, but Hamad declined, saying Bahrain is committed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

North Korea

  • The U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil suit to seize 280 cryptocurrency accounts used by North Korean hackers involved in laundering over $300 million. It’s the first publicly announced case of North Korean hackers targeting a U.S.-based virtual crypto company (although that probably happens a lot).

U.S.

  • Pres. Trump officially accepted the Republican nomination for president during the final night of the Republican National Convention.

  • Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana as one of the strongest storms to ever hit the U.S. At least six people died.

Other News

  • Japanese PM Abe said he would resign for health reasons. On Monday, Abe became Japan’s longest-serving PM by consecutive days in office, but his approval ratings have been low due to his handling of the pandemic.

Venezuela using coronavirus as cover to crack down on dissent, report claims (The Guardian)

Human Rights Watch says it has found a ‘very, very disturbing’ pattern of intimidation and persecution of government critics

Venezuelan security forces are using the coronavirus pandemic as cover to wage a disturbing “full force” campaign against dissenters, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based human rights group said that dozens of journalists, health professionals, human rights lawyers and government opponents had been arbitrarily detained and prosecuted since President Nicolás Maduro declared a Covid-19 state of emergency in mid-March.

“What we are seeing is that the lockdown measures and Covid have become a wonderful excuse for the Maduro regime to do what it knows how to do best, which is crack down,” said Tamara Taraciuk, the group’s Venezuela specialist and deputy Americas director. “What we are seeing is that Venezuela’s police state is moving ahead with full force.”

Taraciuk said activists had detected a “very, very disturbing” pattern of intimidation and persecution designed to cow government critics and conceal the true scale of Venezuela’s epidemic.

Venezuela’s official Covid-19 death toll is just 358 compared with nearly 120,000 in neighbouring Brazil. But many fear the situation is worse than Maduro’s government is admitting and likely to deteriorate as the country’s already collapsed hospitals struggle to respond.

The Human Rights Watch report said one bioanalyst in the western state of Trujillo was forced to resign and interrogated by the feared Sebin spy agency after using WhatsApp to send colleagues information about a Covid-19 patient.

A journalist in the capital, Caracas, who tweeted publicly available information about the epidemic was allegedly targeted by special forces who raided his house and assaulted two of his relatives. He was later charged with “using false information to destabilize the government”.

“It seems to be an attempt to limit the available information about what is actually happening in the country,” claimed Taraciuk, who said a parallel offensive against political objectors was also accelerating.

Its targets have included Junior Pantoja, an opposition organizer who was seized by security forces on 8 May and died of suspected Covid-19 this week, and Nicmer Evans, a Chavista dissident and political commentator who was detained on 13 July for allegedly “inciting hatred” against the government.

Evans – a former official in Hugo Chávez’s administration – became a vocal Maduro critic after splitting with Chavismo in 2013. Last year he helped broker talks between former Chávez ministers and Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader trying to force Maduro from power.

“Chavismo is broken … If they carry on like this, they will have nothing left,” Evans told the Guardian during a 2019 interview at his Caracas headquarters, urging Maduro to resign.

Taraciuk said the crackdown was being waged “under the radar” while the world was distracted by Covid-19.

Unusually, authorities were also rounding up human rights lawyers, something the activist said she had not seen in more than a decade covering Venezuela.

Some cases involved physical abuse and torture. “These are not the actions of rogue agents … this is part of a pattern of abuse with impunity that we have been seeing in Venezuela for quite some time.”

Maduro, who was elected in 2013, has been fighting for his political survival since January 2019 when a coalition of governments, including the United States, Brazil and the United Kingdom, recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate interim leader. They justified that support claiming Maduro had stolen the 2018 presidential election which returned him to power.

But Guaidó’s challenge has petered out and he is now battling to stay relevant, as Maduro uses the pandemic to reassert his authority over their economically ruined country.

Maduro’s administration has been rocked by Covid-19’s advance. In recent weeks several key figures have been struck down including the oil minister, Tareck el Aissami; the communications minister, Jorge Rodríguez; and the Socialist party strongman Diosdado Cabello. Darío Vivas, the Chavista governor of Caracas and an important Maduro ally, died from Covid-19 earlier this month.

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