Reuters: US to Let 2 Companies Ship Venezuela Oil to Europe

Italian oil company Eni SpA and Spain’s Repsol SA could begin shipping Venezuelan oil to Europe as soon as next month to make up for Russian crude, five people familiar with the matter said, resuming oil-for-debt swaps halted two years ago when Washington stepped up sanctions on Venezuela.

The volume of oil Eni and Repsol are expected to receive is not large, one of the people said, and any impact on global oil prices will be modest. But Washington’s greenlight to resume Venezuela’s long-frozen oil flows to Europe could provide a symbolic boost for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The U.S. State Department gave the nod to the two companies to resume shipments in a letter, the people said. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration hopes the Venezuelan crude can help Europe cut dependence on Russia and re-direct some of Venezuela’s cargoes from China. Coaxing Maduro into restarting political talks with Venezuela’s opposition is another aim, two of the people told Reuters.

The two European energy companies, which have joint ventures with Venezuelan state-run oil company PDVSA, can count the crude cargoes toward unpaid debts and late dividends, the people said.

A key condition, one of the people said, was that the oil received “has to go to Europe. It cannot be resold elsewhere.”

Washington believes PDVSA will not benefit financially from these cash-free transactions, unlike Venezuela’s current oil sales to China, that person said. China has not signed onto Western sanctions on Russia, and has continued to buy Russian oil and gas despite U.S. appeals.

The authorizations came last month, but details and resale restrictions have not been reported previously.

Eni and Repsol did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

OTHERS EXCLUDED

Washington has not made similar allowances for U.S. oil major Chevron Corp, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp Ltd (ONGC) and France’s Maurel & Prom SA, which also lobbied the U.S. State Department and U.S. Treasury Department to take oil in return for billions of dollars in accumulated debts from Venezuela.

All five oil companies halted swapping oil for debt in mid-2020 in the midst of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign that cut Venezuela’s oil exports but failed to oust Maduro.

PDVSA has not scheduled Eni and Repsol to take any cargoes this month, according to a June 3 preliminary PDVSA loading program seen by Reuters.

Venezuela Vice President Delcy Rodriguez tweeted last month she hoped the U.S. overtures “will pave the way for the total lifting of the illegal sanctions which affect our entire people.”

OUTREACH TO CARACAS

The Biden administration held its highest level talks with Caracas in March, and Venezuela freed two of at least 10 jailed U.S. citizens and promised to resume election talks with the opposition. Maduro has yet to agree on a date to return to the negotiating table.

Republican lawmakers and some of Biden’s fellow Democrats who oppose any softening of U.S. policy toward Maduro have blasted the U.S. approach to Venezuela as too one-sided.

Washington maintains further sanctions relief on Venezuela will be conditioned on progress toward democratic change as Maduro negotiates with the opposition.

Last month, the Biden administration authorized Chevron, the largest U.S. oil company still operating in Venezuela, to talk to Maduro’s government and PDVSA about future operations in Venezuela.

About that time, the U.S. State Department secretly sent letters to Eni and Repsol saying Washington would “not object” if they resumed oil-for-debt deals and brought the oil to Europe, one of the sources told Reuters.

The letters assured them they would face no penalties for taking Venezuelan oil cargoes to collect on pending debt, said two people in Washington.

CHEVON CONSIDERATION

Chevron’s request to the U.S. Treasury to expand its operations in Venezuela came as the State Department issued the no-objection letters to Eni and Repsol. The person familiar with the matter in Washington declined to say whether Chevron’s request remained under consideration.

The U.S. oil major did receive a six-month continuation of a license that preserves its assets and U.S. approval to talk with Venezuelan government officials about future operations.

It was not immediately clear if Washington had okayed the prior crude-for-fuel swaps European companies conducted with PDVSA until 2020, exchanges that provided relief to gasoline-thirsty Venezuela.

China has become the largest customer for Venezuelan oil, with as much as 70% of monthly shipments destined for its refiners.


© 2022 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.



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Over 550 Monkeypox Cases Reported as Virus Spreads Undetected

The World Health Organization warned Wednesday that monkeypox is spreading largely undetected as the organization tallied more than 550 cases of the virus across 30 different countries, CNBC reported.

During a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Dr. Rosamund Lewis, the WHO’s monkeypox technical lead, said that the affliction could have spread for months or years undetected.

“We don’t really know whether it’s too late to contain. What WHO and all member states are trying to do is prevent onward spread,” the virus expert said, adding that investigations into the matter are ongoing.

Lewis further remarked that the WHO has been monitoring monkeypox in Africa for over 50 years, with deaths from the virus reported annually.

This year alone, more than 70 deaths from monkeypox have been reported across five African countries, she said.

“Collective immunity in the human population since that time is not what it was at the time of smallpox eradication,” Lewis stated regarding a substantial drop in utilizing smallpox vaccines since 1980 when the WHO declared the disease eradicated.

“Anyone under the age of 40 or 50, depending on which country you were born in or where you might have received your vaccine against smallpox, would not now have that protection from that particular vaccine.”

The expert assured that the WHO was not endorsing a global vaccination campaign and reiterated evidence that monkeypox is primarily spreading within communities made up of homosexual men.

“The WHO is not recommending mass vaccination. There is no need for mass vaccination,” Lewis declared.

The most significant monkeypox outbreaks outside Africa are located primarily in Europe, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently tracking 18 confirmed cases of the virus within the U.S., according to ABC’s WSB-TV 2.


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NATO Official: ‘No Restrictions’ on Organization’s Deployments in Eastern Europe

North Atlantic Treaty Organization Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana told the AFP News Agency on Sunday that the treaty organization has “no restrictions” on the number of troops it can deploy to eastern Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“They [Russia] took decisions, they made obligations there not to aggress neighbors, which they are doing, and to have regular consultations with NATO, which they don’t,” Geoana told the news outlet during an interview Sunday. “Now we have no restrictions to have robust posture in the eastern flank and to ensure that every square inch of NATO’s territory is protected by Article 5 and our allies.”

Article 5 of NATO states that an attack on one member nation is considered an attack on all members, according to the organization.

According to Geoana, Russia violated the 1997 Founding Act, which was designed to prevent a build-up of troops in central and eastern Europe by promising to not make aggressive moves, such as the Ukrainian invasion, and to regularly talk with NATO.

During a speech Sunday at NATO’s spring session Parliamentary Assembly, he said that Russian President Vladimir “Putin’s war against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and shaken the entire international order.”

“Russia’s brutality knows no bounds. It is destroying the lives and livelihoods of millions of Ukrainians,” he said. “And it has lasting repercussions that threaten the peace and stability in Europe and beyond. Putin’s war has triggered the largest humanitarian crises in Europe in decades. It threatens even greater humanitarian and food crisis well beyond Europe’s borders.”

He said that the organization has “significantly stepped up” the organization’s “deterrence and defense” since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, and now has more than 40,000 troops under direct NATO command in the region, backed up by naval and air assets with another 100,000 troops “on high alert.”

“At the Madrid Summit, our leaders will take important decisions to enhance our force posture further on the whole of the eastern flank,” he said. “This is deterrence and removing any shadow of a doubt and leaving no room for misunderstanding or miscalculation in Moscow. Not to provoke conflict, but to prevent conflict and preserve peace.”

The organization started shortly after World War II in 1949 to protect western nations against the Russian threat of communism and nuclear war, and it now has 30 member nations.

Article 5 has only been invoked once in history following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York and Washington, D.C., according to the organization.


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Report: European Companies Look to US for Stability Amid Pandemic, War

As war continues in Ukraine and COVID-19 forces more major lockdowns in China, European companies are investing more in the United States because of its relative stability in today’s turbulent world, The Wall Street Journal is reporting Saturday.

“America is our chance for strong strategic growth,” the Journal reported Volkswagen AG Chief Executive Herbert Diess telling reporters Wednesday, as he announced the doubling of its Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory, and plans to open a second plant to serve the U.S. market.

Pandora CEO Alexander Lacik said his Danish jewelry company purchased 32 stores on the West Coast as it pauses Chinese expansion as that country faces economic pressures of its own.

“With the current conditions, there is really no point in over-investing in China. So, now it’s more like we’re holding the fort and we’ll just have to sit and wait for a little while,” he told the Journal.

According to a Jan. 3 story from The Diplomat, China’s economy is facing “major disruptions” stemming from the trade war with the U.S., a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and power shortages, which are exacerbating a downturn in the real estate market there and inflation.

The article said that internal restrictions caused developers like Evergrande to default on some debt repayments, and a slowing of the commercial market, are blocking the financial health of its economy.

Meanwhile, China is also having COVID-fueled logistical issues, labor and power shortages, and high commodity prices have driven prices upward and are now being passed on to customers, increasing inflation there, The Diplomat reports.

As Russia continues its war in Ukraine, Europe and the world are rippling with the economic consequences including higher food and prices, a March blog post from the International Monetary Fund said.

Neighboring countries, according to the IMF, are seeing disruptions in the trade and supply chain areas, as well as higher inflation, and a large flow of refugees entering their countries as the war persists.

This confluence of turbulent factors is making the European businesses consider more investment in the American economy, that while it is facing its own challenges with labor, inflation, and the supply chain, are more stable, and is growing.

The Journal report said the U.S. economy is expected to grow by about 3.7% this year, compared to the 2.8% growth expected in the Eurozone, and just 2% growth expected in China this year.

“The headwinds facing the economy are not just likely to slow [China’s] growth this year: They are reasons to think that China’s growth will remain weak for years to come,” Capital Economics chief economist Neil Shearing told the Journal.


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Demand Way Up for High End Nuclear Bunkers in Europe

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, demand for nuclear shelters in Europe has skyrocketed, including higher-end units selling for as much as $8 million each.

“In the first few weeks of March people were really scared and wanted immediate help,” Claus Haglund from Bühler GmbH, a Swiss firm that installs and repairs bunkers, told The Telegraph in an April 30 report. “Basically, they wanted to know how quickly their bunkers could be made useable.”

Inquiries on units have dramatically increased in the past several months, and are continuing as Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, insinuate the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the conflict, CBS News reported in March.

“We’ve got a world superpower threatening to use nuclear weapons; that alone is enough to be scary,” Texas-based Rising S Co. General Manager Gary Lynch told the news outlet regarding the rising number of people from Europe seeking information about his company’s line of shelters.

Lynch said his company, which makes prefabricated bunkers and ships them all over the world, received 1,600 inquiries in a 10-day period, leading to 40 sales of between $60,000 and $200,000 each.

“Normally, in that same time frame I would have sold five,” Lynch said, describing his new customers as “hardworking people who are taking the measures to protect their loved ones.”

But it’s not just your average people looking for protection, The Daily Mail reported in early March that prices for the units vary from $85,500 to more than $8 million each, sheltering as many as 45 people, and several vehicles in an underground garage.

In addition to living space, the units also provide filtered air systems that can eliminate biological or chemical weapons containing anthrax, sarin gas or mustard gas.

”Just look at what’s going on. [Putin] is threatening nuclear war, saying it would be something the world has never seen,” Lynch told the Daily Mail. ”The world has seen Hiroshima. And if what they are threatening is worse than that then, by all means, we should all be worried.”

Buried 11 feet underground, Lynch said his units can include ”grow rooms” for food, fitness centers, swimming pools, firing ranges, bowling alleys and elevators.

”Don’t make fun of or criticize people that have valid fears,” Lynch said. ”They want nothing more than to protect their loved ones in a terrible, terrible time. The only way you can prepare yourself to fail is by not preparing.”


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Mysterious Spike in Children Liver Infections Seen in Europe and Alabama

Cases of severe liver infection have been spiking in both Europe and Alabama, CBS News reported Friday. So far, no deaths have been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are investigating.

The WHO reports being notified on April 5 regarding 10 severe hepatitis cases in children under the age of 10 in central Scotland. So far, no medical officials have determined a cause. Three days later, the cases for children in the United Kingdom spiked to 74.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, nine cases of hepatitis in children between ages 1 and 6 years old have been reported without a known cause since Oct. 2021.

“It’s important to note that not all diseases are reported at the state or national level – and in these cases, CDC utilizes different methods of surveillance, including close collaboration with clinicians and health departments to identify and detect unusual patterns or clusters of illness,” CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said.

According to the WHO, children reported symptoms of jaundice, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Some of the cases have required the children to be transferred to children’s liver specialist units, with six needing a liver transplant. With the rise in cases in the past months, the WHO expects more to come.

According to Live Science, Dr. Rachel Tayler, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow, and her colleagues authored a report regarding recent hepatitis cases among children in Scotland published Thursday in the journal Eurosurveillance. In most cases, the children recovered with only supportive care in the hospital, which required “maintaining their fluid levels and nutrition and monitoring for blood clots.”

The CDC and the WHO said they are investigating and are considering adenovirus as well as COVID-19 as early indications of infection. But no definitive answer has been given. Tayler’s paper mentions that among the children, none were vaccinated, but it did not mention if the mothers were vaccinated.

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Padua: Students, Saints, and Scarpette

Nicknamed “the Brain of Veneto,” Padua is home to the prestigious university (founded in 1222) that hosted Galileo, Copernicus, Dante, and Petrarch. Pilgrims know this city for the Basilica of St. Anthony, where the faithful assemble to touch his tomb and marvel at his holy relics. It’s a great place to experience Italy: to make some new friends, get chummy with the winds of its past, and connect with the delights of its now.

I start my visit with a ramble around the old town center. It’s a colonnaded, time-travel experience through some of Italy’s most inviting squares, perfect for lingering over an aperitivo. But it’s not stodgy — this university town has 60,000 students and a youthful spirit. No wonder Galileo called his 18 years on the faculty in Padua the best of his life. I see young people — apparently without a lot of private space in their apartments — hanging out, kissing, and cuddling in public. Students are making themselves at home with their heritage, lounging literally under a medieval tomb that stands atop ornate columns.

Since the students can graduate whenever they defend their thesis, little graduation parties erupt on the streets throughout the year. Graduates are given a green laurel wreath. Then formal group photos are taken. It’s a sweet, multigenerational scene with familial love and pride busting out all over.

Then, once grandma goes home, the craziness takes over. Sober, scholarly clothing is replaced by raunchy wear as gangs of friends gather around the new grad in front of the university, and the roast begins. A giant butcher-paper poster with a caricature of the student — generally obscene — and a litany of “This Is Your Life” photos is presented to the new graduate. The happy grad reads the funny text out loud while various embarrassing pranks are pulled. The poster is then taped to the university wall for 24 hours for all to see.

Eventually I tear myself away from this profane ritual to seek out Padua’s sacred sights: the Basilica of St. Anthony and the Scrovegni Chapel. Buried in the basilica is Friar Anthony of Padua, patron saint of travelers, amputees, donkeys, pregnant women, barren women, flight attendants, and pig farmers. Construction of this impressive Romanesque/Gothic church, with its Byzantine-style domes, started immediately after Anthony’s death in 1231. As a mark of his universal appeal and importance in the medieval Church, he was sainted within a year of his death. And for nearly 800 years, his remains and this glorious church have attracted a steady stream of pilgrims.

Going with the flow of the pilgrim groups, I enter the church. Gazing through the incense haze, I see Donatello’s glorious crucifix rising from the altar, a masterpiece appropriate for one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Christendom. Following the pilgrims into the Chapel of the Reliquaries, I stand before the basilica’s most prized relic: Anthony’s tongue. When the saint’s remains were exhumed 32 years after his death, his body had decayed to dust, but his tongue was found miraculously unspoiled, still red in color. How appropriate for the great preacher who, so full of the Spirit, couldn’t stop talking about God.

My next stop is across town at the glorious Scrovegni Chapel. It’s wallpapered with Giotto’s beautiful cycle of nearly 40 frescoes depicting the lives of Jesus and Mary. Painted by Giotto and his assistants from 1303 to 1305, it’s considered to be the first piece of “modern” (as opposed to medieval) art. This work makes it clear: Europe was breaking out of the Middle Ages and heading into the Renaissance. Giotto placed real people in real scenes, expressing real human emotions. These frescoes were radical not only for their three-dimensional effects, lively colors, and light sources, but also for their humanism.

In the early evening, after the museums and churches have closed, Padua’s squares become open-air student parties, dotted with drinks of rosy spritzes that glow with the light of the setting sun. I cap my day by joining the festivities. Reminding myself that I’m as interesting to these young Italians as they are to me, I befriend a table of college students and buy a round of drinks. Diving headlong into a vigorous political discussion, I partake in the Italian ritual of the bread and oil. I pour some fine olive oil on a dish, season it with salt and pepper, rip a long strip from our bread, dip it, and bite. A student, nodding with approval, explains that I am making the scarpette: “the little shoes.”

Soaking up the oil along with the conversation, I’m still thinking about my day, witnessing the sacred and the profane here in Padua. I realize that travelers can become human scarpette — sopping up culture — wherever we venture.

©2022 Rick Steves. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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Poland Would like More U.S. Troops in Europe, Says Ruling Party Boss

Poland would welcome a 50% increase in the number of U.S. troops in Europe, the leader of the country’s ruling party said in comments published on Sunday, as Warsaw calls for tougher action against Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.

The invasion of Ukraine, which Russian President Vladimir Putin called a “special military operation” to demilitarize its neighbor, has fueled security fears in states on NATO’s eastern flank.

The alliance has responded by increasing its presence in the region, announcing four more multinational battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia last month.

“Poland would be pleased if the Americans increased their presence in Europe from the current 100,000 soldiers up to 150,000 in the future due to Russia’s increasing aggressiveness,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

“Of these, 75,000 soldiers should be stationed on the eastern flank; ie, on the border with Russia; 50,000 soldiers in the Baltic states and Poland,” he said in the interview, which was also published on the website of Poland’s ruling party Law and Justice (PiS).

Kaczynski also said that Poland would be “open” to having nuclear weapons stationed in the country but that this was not something currently under consideration.

There were roughly 80,000 U.S. troops in Europe before Russian troops moved into Ukraine.

© 2022 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.



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War, Inflation Hit Euro Zone Recovery Hopes


PARIS—France and Germany saw bigger than expected drops in consumer confidence this month as rising inflation and concern about the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine took their toll, surveys showed on Tuesday.

The European Central Bank insists the euro zone can avoid recession, but the collapse in consumer morale in its two top economies is a setback. Italy, the third largest economy, is due to downgrade its growth targets, sources in Rome said.

In Germany, the GfK institute said its consumer sentiment index, based on a survey of around 2,000 people, dropped to -15.5 points heading into April from a revised -8.5 points a month earlier and the lowest since February 2021.

“In February, hopes were still high that consumer sentiment would recover with the easing of pandemic-related restrictions. However, the war in Ukraine caused these hopes to vanish into thin air,” GfK consumer expert Rolf Buerkl said in a statement.

Economists polled by Reuters had on average expected the index to drop to -14.0.

In France, the INSEE official statistics agency said its consumer confidence index fell to 91 points from 97 in February, falling short of economists’ expectations in a Reuters poll for 94 and the worst headline figure since February 2021.

“A fall of that extent is rare,” BNP analysts commented in a note that observed that sharper monthly drops had only previously occurred around the 1993 recession and the 2020 lockdown.

No Pre-Election Bounce

The result also ran counter to the improving trend usually seen ahead of presidential elections when optimism rises that a new political order will translate into improved standards of living.

Ahead of next month’s French election, the government has put together a package of measures worth 25 billion euros ($27 billion) to reduce the pain of high energy prices and inflation.

But that did little to ease inflation fears with the proportion of households expecting inflation to increase jumping by 50 points to its highest since INSEE’s survey began in 1972.

As part of the government measures, France has capped increases in gas and power prices, made one-off anti-inflation payouts to low-income households and offered a rebate on fuel prices.

In Germany, the ruling coalition agreed last week on a second package of measures in as many months to give people relief from soaring power, heating, and fuel costs.

Under the 17 billion euro package, German workers and families will receive extra public cash, a tax cut on petrol, and cut-price public transport tickets.

Separately, the trade union-linked IMK institute forecast Germany’s economy would grow more slowly than expected and could even contract this year due to the war in Ukraine.

Its analysts predicted a base scenario of 2.1 percent growth—less than half the 4.5 percent they saw for 2022 back in December—but said a worst-case scenario including much higher energy prices could even see a 0.3 percent contraction.

The deteriorating consumer confidence is not limited to France and Germany.

Based on a flash estimate last Wednesday, euro zone sentiment collapsed in March to 18.7 points, the lowest level since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in April and May 2020.

Italy, the euro zone’s third-largest economy, also saw a bigger than expected decline in consumer confidence, the national statistics office said last week.

On Tuesday sources close to the matter told Reuters that Mario Draghi’s government is preparing next week to slash its 2022 growth forecast to 2.8 percent from a previous 4.7 percent goal set in September due to surging energy costs and turmoil linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukraine war also caused the steepest decline in Belgian consumer confidence since records began in 1985, while Dutch consumer morale dropped to its lowest level in nine years in March.

Economists polled by Reuters this month expect the euro zone to grow 3.8 percent this year and 2.5 percent next, marginally down from 3.9 percent and 2.5 percent predicted last month.

($1 = 0.9057 euro)

By Leigh Thomas and Zuzanna Szymanska

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Capitol Report (March 21): SCOTUS Nominee Hearings Begin


Four days of confirmation hearings for President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee kick off Monday. What is Ketanji Brown Jackson facing? And what are her prospects?

And former secretary of housing and urban development Ben Carson reacts to the hearing.

Biden is preparing for his first trip to Europe since the RussiaUkraine war broke out, with a stop in Poland on the agenda. What’s the White House’s next plan of action on the war in Ukraine?

Some House Democrats are calling for government subsidies to pay out to Americans for rising gas prices, but Republicans say more government spending is not the answer.

The White House says Russia may be exploring cyberattack options as a response to U.S.-imposed sanctions.

A gunfight between two men broke out at a car show in a rural Arkansas town on Saturday. One person was killed and over two dozen others—including children—were injured.

A Chinese airliner has crashed in the southern part of the country, causing a massive fire on a hillside; 132 people on board are feared to be dead.

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Steve Lance is the host of Capitol Report, a political news show based in Washington D.C. aimed at providing a direct channel to the voices and people who shape policy in America. Capitol Report features all of the political news of the day with expert interviews and analysis.





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