As Maduro Craves Power, Voters Are Just Hungry

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With oil reserves larger than Saudi Arabia’s, Venezuela should be among the world’s most prosperous nations.

Instead, misery abounds as President Nicolas Maduro seeks six more years in elections Sunday with the Latin American nation in economic free fall and migrants fleeing his socialist regime. Billions of dollars in bonds are in default and there’s resignation the late Hugo Chavez's protege is gambling what remains of the economy with a vote widely regarded as rigged.

Maduro, 55, has jailed his most potent rivals and driven Venezuela’s main opposition to boycott the vote. Victory could herald sanctions that choke off the oil lifeline after the U.S. threatened to punish the local crude industry if the election proceeds. Maduro this week spurned the regional Lima Group's appeal to suspend the ballot.

For disaffected Venezuelans, the daily struggle for food seems more pressing than politics amid hyperinflation that may reach 13,000 percent this year. Maduro and his main challengers, Henri Falcon and Javier Bertucci, draw sparse crowds.

Neighboring countries are struggling to cope with thousands of Venezuelan refugees. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he's “extremely worried” the migrant outpouring may trigger a major regional crisis.

Global Headlines

Deadly choice | Israel is struggling to explain why it opted for live fire against a mass protest by Palestinians, killing 60 people and wounding about 1,200, rather than an array of non-lethal methods designed for quelling unrest that include a putrid-smelling fluid called “the skunk” and incapacitating sticky foam. An Israeli human rights group called the decision “unacceptable and outrageous.”

Bolton-shaped wrecking ball | Toluse Olorunnipa takes a closer look at President Donald Trump’s newly minted National Security Adviser. John Bolton’s suggestion that North Korea’s nuclear disarmament should follow the “Libya model” embraced by Muammar Qaddafi (who was later killed in a U.S.-backed uprising) prompted a threat from Pyongyang to withdraw from a planned June 12 summit. The White House distanced itself from Bolton’s comments. 

China trade deal? | The brief exclusion of the White House’s chief China critic, Peter Navarro, from trade talks in Washington this week fueled speculation that Trump might be looking to cut a deal and end his market-roiling dispute with Beijing. The “Death by China” author was initially left out of talks with President Xi Jinping’s visiting economic envoys, before being reinstated yesterday, Jennifer Jacobs reports.

Russia troubles | The organizer of the now-infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting dangled the prospect of an audience with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That’s among the revelations in a trove of U.S. Senate documents released yesterday. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, meanwhile, may be zeroing in on Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone, and the president was rebuked for not reporting a reimbursement to his attorney, Michael Cohen, for a payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Razak raid | Malaysian police seized personal items from former leader Najib Razak’s house in an overnight search, his lawyer said, as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s new government seeks evidence of wrongdoing at state fund 1MDB. The scandal spawned global probes as investigators tracked a money trail from Switzerland to Singapore and the U.S., which alleges $3.5 billion is missing. Police mentioned possible money laundering offenses but not 1MDB, the attorney said.

What to Watch

  • Italy inches towards a new government, as populist parties drop a request for a 250-billion-euro writeoff from the European Central Bank.
  • U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Nafta deadline arrives today with no deal in sight.

And finally… European leaders may have finally lost patience with Trump’s “America First” agenda. They agreed before a summit today in Bulgaria that the European Union won’t negotiate on trade unless the U.S. grants permanent exemption from tariffs on steel and aluminum, adding to disagreements over climate change and Iran. EU President Donald Tusk said the bloc should be grateful to Trump “because thanks to him we have got rid of all illusions” that it can rely on the U.S.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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