Venezuela Releases 6 U.S. Oil Executives to House Arrest

HOUSTON — The Venezuelan government released a group of American refinery executives from prison to house arrest in Caracas on Friday, in a possible sign that President Nicolás Maduro would like to improve relations with the Biden administration.

The six executives of Houston-based Citgo Petroleum, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company, have been held on corruption charges since 2017, after they were ordered to attend a budget meeting in Venezuela. When they arrived, they were arrested.

The group — known as the “Citgo 6” — was previously allowed to return to private homes from prison only to be sent back to prison.

Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, who has been attempting to negotiate the release of the six — five of whom are naturalized American citizens and the other an American resident — said he viewed the transfer as a sign of progress.

negotiating pawns as the relationship between the United States and Venezuela has worsened in recent years.

When the executives were last released from prison two years ago, they were quickly returned to prison after then-President Donald J. Trump invited Juan Guaidó, a top opposition leader, to the White House.

Mr. Guaidó is formally recognized as the president of Venezuela by the United States and other Western countries, but the likelihood that he will ever take control of the government appears dim. Mr. Maduro has held on to power with a tight grip and aid from Cuba, Russia and China.

Citgo operates three major refineries, a major pipeline network and scores of gasoline stations around the United States. It is currently blocked from doing business with Venezuela under U.S. sanctions.

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Armed Groups Step Into Venezuela as Lawlessness Grows

GUARERO, Venezuela — They bring drinking water to residents in the arid scrublands, teach farming workshops and offer medical checkups. They mediate land disputes, fine cattle rustlers, settle divorces, investigate crimes and punish thieves.

They’re not police officers, civil servants or members of the Venezuela government, which has all but disappeared from this impoverished part of the country.

Quite the opposite: They belong to one of Latin America’s most notorious rebel groups, considered terrorists by the United States and the European Union for carrying out bombings and kidnappings over decades of violence.

Venezuela’s economic collapse has so thoroughly gutted the country that insurgents have embedded themselves across large stretches of its territory, seizing upon the nation’s undoing to establish mini-states of their own.

brutal armed groups known as syndicates that dominate illegal mining manage the supply of electricity and fuel, while also providing medical equipment to clinics in the towns they control.

Along Venezuela’s 1,400-mile border with Colombia, the ELN and other insurgents hold sway. Just a decade ago, the town of Paraguaipoa in the Guajira peninsula had several banks, a post office and a court. All have since closed. The hospital is out of basic medicines. The power goes out for days on end. Water pipes have been dry for years.

proven oil reserves in the world.

“There’s nothing here, just slow death,” said Isabel Jusayu, a Wayuu weaver in the town of Guarero.

The tourists who bought her woven purses and hammocks have disappeared with the pandemic. Her family now survives by biking to Colombia to sell scavenged scrap metal every week. But Ms. Jusayu has been homebound because of a stray bullet that injured her during the recent gang war.

When violence broke out in Guarero in 2018, the police and soldiers largely stood by as criminals fought brutally over the smuggling routes, according to residents and local rights activists.

Gunmen terrorized neighborhoods just steps away from military barracks, spraying houses with bullets, they said. The shooting became so common in Guarero that pet parrots began imitating machine gun fire. Residents said their children were traumatized.

As the violence spiraled, entire Wayuu clans became targets. Magaly Baez said 10 of her relatives were killed and that her entire village, located along a major gasoline trafficking route, was demolished. Most residents fled to Colombia.

“We suffered hunger, humiliation,” said Ms. Baez, “listening all day to children crying: ‘Mami, when are we going to eat?’”

Residents spoke of massacres, forced curfews and mass graves that brought to their remote corner of Venezuela the kind of terror Colombia experienced during its decades-long civil war.

“As long as you stayed alive, you stayed silent,” said Ms. Baez.

Some people dared to report homicides, but it didn’t lead to charges, residents said. The crimes went unpunished — until the ELN stepped in to help last year, said Mr. Hernández, the Wayuu leader in Guarero. His account was corroborated by interviews with dozens of other Indigenous residents.

As the ELN took control, the fighting subsided last year, and refugees began trickling back. Street life resumed in previously deserted towns, and young men went back to ferrying fuel drums from Colombia on bicycles and motorbikes to resell in Venezuela.

In Guarero, when the heat cools at sunset, children once again gather at the soccer field where Junior Uriana, a 17-year-old, was shot dead in 2018.

His aunt, Zenaida Montiel, buried him in her backyard in a simple grave next to her son, José Miguel, who was murdered a week earlier. Ms. Montiel said she still didn’t know why they died. She was too scared to go to the police or ask for help, she said.

Now, things have changed, she said.

“A new law is here now,” she said. “I feel safer.”

Reporting was contributed by María Iguarán from Guarero; Isayen Herrera from Caracas, Venezuela; and Sheyla Urdaneta from Maracaibo, Venezuela.

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Girl’s Rape in Venezuela Becomes a Rallying Cry for Abortion Activists

The assault of a 13-year-old girl in Venezuela and the arrest of her mother and a teacher who helped her end the pregnancy have forced a national debate about legalizing abortion.


MÉRIDA, Venezuela — She wore a ponytail and a red T-shirt, the words “Glitter Girl” sketched across the front.

Gripping her mother’s hand, she spoke softly, describing how she had been forced out of school by Venezuela’s economic crisis, and then was raped at least six times by a neighborhood predator who threatened to harm her family if she spoke out. At just 13, she became pregnant.

With her mother, she sought out a doctor, who told her the pregnancy endangered her life, and then a former teacher, who provided pills that induced an abortion.

But ending a pregnancy is illegal in almost all circumstances in Venezuela. And now the girl was speaking up, she said, because her teacher, Vannesa Rosales, was in jail, facing more than a decade in prison for helping her end a pregnancy — while the accused rapist remained free.

local and international press earlier this year, has become a point of outrage for women’s rights activists, who say it demonstrates the way the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis has stripped away protections for young women and girls. (The Times is not identifying the girl because she is a minor.)

The country’s decline, presided over by President Nicolás Maduro and exacerbated by U.S. sanctions, has crippled schools, shuttered community programs, sent millions of parents abroad and eviscerated the justice system, leaving many vulnerable to violent actors who flourish amid impunity.

But the girl’s assault, and Ms. Rosales’s arrest, has also become a rallying cry for activists who say it is time for Venezuela to have a serious discussion about further legalizing abortion, an issue, they argue, that is now more important than ever.

at least open to a discussion on the issue.

The country’s penal code, which dates back to the 1800s, criminalizes abortion in nearly all cases, with punishments for pregnant women lasting six months to two years and one to nearly three years for abortion providers.

An exception allows doctors to perform abortions “to save the life” of a pregnant woman.

But to obtain a legal abortion, a girl or woman must first find a doctor who will diagnose her with a specific life-threatening condition, said Dr. Jairo Fuenmayor, president of the country’s gynecologic society, and then have her case reviewed before a hospital ethics board.

The process is “cumbersome,” he said, and there are “very few” women who go through it.

The 13-year-old girl may have been eligible for a rare legal abortion, but the process is so infrequently publicized, and there so few doctors who will grant one, that neither she nor her mother knew they could seek one out.

Some women believe that simply raising the issue with a doctor will land them in the hands of the police.

legalize abortion, elevating a discussion about the issue in a region that has long had some of the strictest abortion laws in the world.

“We can ride the wave of the triumph in Argentina,” said Gioconda Espina, a longtime Venezuelan women’s rights activist.

Legalization, however, is far from imminent.

Venezuela is a deeply Catholic country, and many on both sides of the political aisle reject the idea of ending a pregnancy, even amid a crisis.

“Abortion is something that people naturally or instinctively reject,” said Christine de Vollmer, a Venezuelan activist who opposes the procedure. Venezuela may be “chaotic,” she said, but, “I don’t think the idea will catch.”

Hugo Chávez, who began the country’s socialist-inspired revolution in 1999, never took a strong position on abortion, but often asked feminist activists — many of whom supported abortion rights and his cause — to put his larger political movement ahead of their own demands.

sometimes disappeared for months or years in the Venezuelan justice system, and she worried that her partner was about to do the same.

Ms. Rosales’s lawyer, Venus Faddoul, exited the courthouse. No hearing today, she said. And it would probably be weeks before a judge took up the case.

Ms. Escobar collapsed, consumed by anger and anxiety. Soon, she was shaking violently and struggling to breathe.

“We are powerless,” she cried.

internet outrage that Venezuela’s attorney general, Tarek Saab, took to Twitter to clarify that he had issued an arrest warrant for the accused rapist.

The authorities in Mérida soon released Ms. Rosales to await trial under house arrest.

Abortion rights activists last month met for hours with Mr. Rodríguez, the National Assembly president, where they proposed a change to the penal code, among other ideas.

The country’s influential association of Catholic bishops responded with a letter imploring the country to stick with the status quo.

Powerful international organizations, the association said, were trying to legalize abortion “by appealing to fake concepts of modernity, inventing ‘new human rights,’ and justifying policies that go against God’s designs.”

Ms. Rosales remains in legal limbo. Six months after her arrest, she has yet to have her first day in court. The accused person is still free.

“This goes beyond being a negligent state,” she said. “This is a state that is actively working against women.”

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Biden Gives Venezuelans Reprieve to Remain in U.S. Trump Had Rejected

WASHINGTON — As many as 320,000 Venezuelans living in the United States were given an 18-month reprieve on Monday from the threat of being deported, as the Biden administration sought to highlight how dangerous that country has become under President Nicolás Maduro.

The immigrants also will be allowed to work legally in the United States as part of the temporary protective status the administration issued as it considers the next steps in a yearslong American pressure campaign to force Mr. Maduro from power.

“The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement. “It is in times of extraordinary and temporary circumstances like these that the United States steps forward to support eligible Venezuelan nationals already present here, while their home country seeks to right itself out of the current crises.”

Venezuela is mired in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises under Mr. Maduro, who, through a mix of corruption and neglect, oversaw the decay of the country’s oil infrastructure that had propped up its economy. The United Nations has estimated that up to 94 percent of Venezuela’s population lives in poverty, with millions of people bereft of regular access to water, food and medicine.

Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader and former head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s legitimate leader.

But one of the officials who briefed reporters on Monday on condition that he not be identified said the Biden administration was reviewing whether to lift a raft of economic sanctions that experts believe have cost Venezuela’s government has much as $31 billion since 2017.

The official said that review would assess whether the economic pressure exacted against Mr. Maduro and his government was worth the risk of exacerbating the dire living conditions for Venezuelans.

The new protections were welcomed by Democrats and Republicans in Congress who had appeared divided on the approach to immigration policy under Mr. Trump.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said he supported the protections, although “it is critical that we continue working with our democratic allies to secure a Venezuela free from tyranny and ensure this temporary status in the U.S. does not become a permanent one.”

Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, both Democrats, noted that earlier efforts to allow Venezuelan immigrants to remain in the United States were blocked by the former president’s supporters in Congress.

“For years, the world watched in horror as man-made humanitarian and political crises turned Venezuela into a failed state,” the senators said in a joint statement. “Despite these disastrous and dangerous conditions, Venezuelans were still forcibly deported back to their country by the Trump administration.”

federal appeals court sided with the Trump administration’s argument that immigrants from places like El Salvador, Haiti and Sudan, which were recovering from disasters or political turmoil, no longer needed safe haven in the United States.

Monday’s announcement signaled that the Biden administration was likely to continue at least some of the protections.

Roberto Marrero, a Venezuelan opposition leader who moved to Florida after spending a year and a half in jail in Venezuela, called Monday’s decision a “bittersweet victory.”

“It gives us protection,” he said, “but also reminds us that we’re here because there’s a dictatorship in our country.”

Lara Jakes reported from Washington, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Bogotá, Colombia.

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