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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF


U.S.

  • Protests against police brutality continued in cities across the U.S. At least 40 cities imposed curfews, and the National Guard has been activated in 15 states and Washington, DC. Almost 1,400 people—including NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio’s daughter—have been arrested in connection with the protests.

  • After initially calling George Floyd’s death (which sparked these protests) a “grave tragedy" that "should never have happened,” Pres. Trump’s tweets have turned more divisive and less constructive. An Economist article pasted below seeks to explain some of the grievances and motivations on both sides—and suggests the demonstrations will continue into summer.

  • Trump tweeted that he planned to label Antifa—a loose set of far leftist groups that his administration blames for stirring up these protests—as a terrorist organization. However, legal experts say the designation would be unconstitutional, since there’s no provision for the government to apply it to a wholly domestic group.

DRC

  • DRC’s Council of Ministers suspended the board and management of parastatal mining company Miba for “major dysfunctions in compliance, governance and management, production and financial administration.” The government plans to discuss ways to “re-float” Miba.

  • After three years of search, Congolese police arrested the chief of the “Black Ant” militia suspected of murdering two UN employees who were in DRC to investigate mass graves. Police say the chief, Tresor Mputu Kankonde, was in the process of reactivating his militia to attack Kananga when he was captured.

Afghanistan

  • A RFE/RL article today reminded me that I haven’t reported on district control in Afghanistan in a while. According to Long War Journal’s tally, the government currently controls around 30% of Afghanistan’s 407 districts. The Taliban controls another 20%, and the remaining 50% of districts are contested.

  • Local police and the Taliban clashed in eastern Nangarhar today, killing 16 Taliban and three police.

Venezuela

  • The WSJ had a good article on Pres. Maduro’s changes to (partially) lift fuel subsidies in Venezuela, concluding with a blunt point: “With multiple different price tiers for the same product, economists warn that the plan is likely to stoke corruption and incentivize users to resell gasoline for profit between the different categories stipulated by the government.” Full article pasted below.

  • Iran said it was ready to “practice its free trade rights” and send Venezuela more fuel shipments if requested, despite U.S. threats to block future supplies. Iran’s fifth tanker out of five is due to arrive in port in Venezuela imminently.

Libya

  • The GNA accused Khalifa Haftar’s LNA of yet another rocket attack that killed civilians in Tripoli.

Guyana

  • Guyana’s Elections Commission said it will be ready to announce final results for the disputed March 2nd election by June 16th. That’s bound to stir some tensions.

Protests sparked by George Floyd’s death are still raging (Economist)

Police have been aggressive, and Donald Trump has stoked division

FOR SEVERAL days, Americans have awakened to searing images. A police station in Minneapolis engulfed in flames. A police truck in New York driving into a sea of protesters. Scores of riot policemen, unidentifiable behind their helmets and face shields, storming down a residential street in Minneapolis, and firing paint rounds at people who did not run inside quickly enough. Joyce Beatty, an African-American congresswoman from Ohio, pepper-sprayed by police while trying to quell a confrontation. Police in multiple cities appeared to deliberately target journalists with rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters.

The proximate cause for the protests was the killing of George Floyd, who died on May 25th after Derek Chauvin, then an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, pressed his knee into Mr Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes—almost three of them after police failed to detect Mr Floyd’s pulse. On May 29th Mr Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Mr Chauvin is expected to appear in court today. Protesters in Minneapolis had been clamouring for his arrest for three days, since mobile-phone footage of Mr Floyd’s death went viral. But his arrest did not quell the demonstrations that Mr Floyd’s death sparked. Over the weekend, they spread. America is now wracked by the most widespread, sustained unrest it has seen in more than 50 years.

Rallies that began peacefully during the day have turned violent at night. At least 75 cities across America have seen protests over the past several days. Governors in at least 11 states have called up the National Guard, and dozens of mayors declared curfews. These measures may calm things down, but they may not: protests following the death of Freddie Grey at the hands of police officers in Baltimore, and Michael Brown, killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, lasted for weeks—and those were not nearly as widespread.

That is in part because the current outcry is about more than just Mr Floyd. Protesters in Georgia commemorated Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging by two white men who chased him in a truck and shot him to death, claiming they believed, without evidence, that he was a burglar. It took weeks before local officials charged the father and son who chased and killed Mr Arbury.

In Louisville, Kentucky, protesters marched in memory of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American emergency-room technician whom police officers killed while executing a “no-knock” warrant at her apartment (police claim they identified themselves; the family disputes this). Crowds across America have chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot”, a slogan used to draw attention to the abnormally high number of police killings in America—1,099 people last year—particularly of African-Americans, who are three times more likely than white people to be killed by police.

Precisely who is responsible for the protests’ more destructive aspects remains unclear—but those aspects have been widespread, and risk undermining support for essential reforms to American policing. Vice News has reported that far-right groups have infiltrated demonstrations, intending to spark racial violence. Tim Walz, Minnesota’s governor, blamed white supremacists, and said he has seen “evidence of some pretty sophisticated attempts to cause problems”. Police across America have often appeared far more eager to escalate than de-escalate violent confrontations.

When racial unrest spread across American cities in 1967, then-president Lyndon Johnson formed a commission to investigate its causes. “We seek more than the uneasy calm of martial law,” he said, in a nationally televised speech. “We seek peace that is based on one man’s respect for another man...We seek a public order that is built on steady progress in meeting the needs of all of our people.”

America’s current president has made no such address. Although Donald Trump called Mr Floyd’s death “a grave tragedy” and has said that “healing not hatred, justice not chaos, are the mission at hand”, he has also suggested that looters should be shot without trial. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted on May 29th, echoing a phrase used by Miami’s white police chief in 1967, who boasted, “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.” He has warned of “vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons” being turned against protesters outside the White House, and of unleashing “the unlimited power of our military”.

Coming from Mr Trump—who has pardoned Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL convicted of posing with a corpse, whom fellow officers accused of shooting Iraqi civilians; as well as Joe Arpaio, a police sheriff convicted of contempt of court for failing to stop his department’s racial profiling—this rhetoric is unsurprising. And while one might imagine that a violent summer during a pandemic and a period of mass unemployment might dent a sitting president’s chances of re-election, widespread revulsion at civic unrest helped put Richard Nixon into the White House in 1968. Mr Trump no doubt hopes for the same effect this year.

Venezuela, in Historic Shift, Moves to Scale Back Fuel Subsidy (WSJ)

Maduro regime to privatize service stations and raise gasoline prices as it contends with shortages

The regime of Nicolás Maduro, grappling with intense gasoline shortages, said it will scale back its longstanding fuel subsidy and privatize service stations, in a significant shift for Venezuelans long accustomed to filling up their cars free of charge.

The measures, which take effect on Monday, are a gamble for Mr. Maduro as he struggles with a devastating economic crisis and tries to outlast U.S.-led sanctions meant to topple his authoritarian administration.

By sharply raising prices, the government says it will make fuel supply more efficient at the same time Venezuelans are queuing for days for gasoline. But the move also flirts with what has been long considered a taboo in the country that sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, and where a similar measure three decades earlier plunged the nation into protests.

“In Latin America, removing energy subsidies is a form of political suicide, and when they’re done badly, they result in chaos,” said Giorgio Cunto, a statistics professor and economist with the Caracas consulting firm Ecoanalítica.

Under the new system, Venezuelans will be limited to 32 gallons of gasoline a month at a subsidized price of nearly 10 cents a gallon. Unlimited quantities, however, can be accessed at a price of $1.90 a gallon, which will be sold at a network of 200 gas stations that the government has privatized to unspecified businessmen.

“It’s a new beginning, for a new situation,” Venezuela Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami said during a news conference Sunday. “This will allow for the normalization of gasoline for the whole country.”

But even as Venezuelans are reeling from years of sky-high inflation that has rendered minimum wage to just a few U.S. dollars a month, government detractors denounced the measure as a brutal economic adjustment. Such a drastic action, they say, wouldn’t have been necessary were it not for the rampant mismanagement of Venezuela’s once-thriving oil industry, which has led the cash-strapped government to import fuel, most recently from Iran, a fellow U.S. adversary.

“They’re trying to hit us with international prices now? What country are you living in, boy?” said Elias Matta, an opposition lawmaker who chairs congress’s petroleum commission. “This is an abuse, it’s insufferable. The people can’t take this any longer.”

At its zenith, about a decade ago, Venezuela was consuming more than 600,000 barrels of fuel a day, large portions of which, according to the government, were lost to smugglers who took it to neighboring countries to sell at steep markups.

But while domestic demand has fallen to nearly one-quarter of that amid Venezuela’s economic meltdown, the government still hasn’t been able to provide enough because its refineries—with capacity to process 1.3 million barrels a day—are in disarray from insufficient maintenance and corruption, said Ivan Freites, an oil-union leader.

Economists estimate that maintaining gasoline free costs Caracas upward of $10 billion a year. Throughout his seven tumultuous years in office—marked by street demonstrations, coup attempts and a mass exodus of refugees—Mr. Maduro has repeatedly floated the idea of cutting fuel subsidies, but with little follow through.

In 1989, a gasoline-price increase under an economic-austerity plan implemented by then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez roiled Venezuela into deadly protests and gave rise to a rabble-rousing tank commander named Hugo Chávez, who later went on to champion the leftist revolution inherited by Mr. Maduro.

In oil-producing Ecuador in October, the government faced crippling demonstrations after it tried to scale back a four-decade-old fuel subsidy as part of an International Monetary Fund credit program. While Mr. Maduro is a public critic of IMF austerity measures, his government has effectively been implementing a stealth adjustment of its own over the past year as it cuts back on public utilities that it had long provided free of charge, including electricity, running water and propane for cooking.

As gasoline shortages have increased in recent months, a lucrative black market for fuel also has been spawned in the country where Maduro-allied military officers control gas stations and charge more than $7 a gallon to go to the front of long lines, according to opposition lawmakers.

Few Venezuelans can afford such prices, with only 15% of the country having steady access to U.S. dollars, according to Ecoanalítica. The firm estimates that at least half of the country’s 30 million people lack access to U.S. dollars and earn exclusively in the inflation-racked bolivar currency.

Alberto Celis, who owns a small bodega in Caracas, said he recently went two months without being able to fill up his car at a gas station, before giving in and spending $50 on fewer than 10 gallons that he bought off a black-market vendor.

“You have to do whatever you can to try to work and survive here,” Mr. Celis said, complaining that the shortages have crushed his delivery business. “It’s getting harder and harder.”

Mr. El Aissami said that to access the new subsidized fuel rate, users will have to scan their fingerprints at gas stations and be registered with the regime’s so-called Fatherland System, a digital network the state uses to track recipients of welfare programs and food handouts. Rights groups have denounced it as a system of social control.

But the government will be hard-pressed to implement the digital rationing system given rolling blackouts and spotty telecommunications throughout the country, said Omar Zambrano, chief economist at Anova Policy Research. On top of the two new official prices for gasoline, Mr. El Aissami said operators of public buses as well as agriculture businesses will be able to access fuel “fully subsidized.”

With multiple different price tiers for the same product, economists warn that the plan is likely to stoke corruption and incentivize users to resell gasoline for profit between the different categories stipulated by the government.

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