State energy firm Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) has been sanctioned by the United States for supplying $50 million worth of oil reformer product to Iran. PDVSA will not be able to compete for U.S. government contracts, will not be able to raise financing through the Export-Import Bank of the United States (although Ex-Im Bank has not lended to Venezuela since 2003), and will be restricted from licensing controlled technology. However, the sanctions will not revoke earlier licenses or stop Venezuelan oil exports to the U.S. or sales through PDVSA’s subsidiary Citgo. “The real significance has to be found in the psychological, political effect of the measure,” former PDSVA executive Gustavo Coronel said to the Associated Press. “It constitutes the first real move of the Obama government against Chavez’s Venezuela.”
In other news, Venezuela’s defense ministry will activate a new unit this year: the 25th Mechanized Infantry Brigade. The unit is to be equipped with Russian BMP-3 fighting vehicles and BTR-80 personnel carriers. The 25th is set to join the army’s Second Infantry Division in the western state of Tachira.
More than 100 peasants taken hostage by the FARC’s 34th Front were freed by the Colombian army and navy Tuesday night. The peasants were reportedly forced by militants into Las Mercedes village in the Pacific department of Choco, where they were held for more than three days before being rescued and flown out by air force helicopter. The militants were not present in the village during the operation.
The Pacific coast is one of Colombia’s most active regions, and is where most drugs leave the country — by boat to Central America, Mexico and the United States. Hannah Stone at InSight reports that nearby Cauca department has seen a four-fold increase in drug trafficking between 2004-2009 (even as trafficking decreased in other parts of the country), and numerous clashes between the FARC and Colombian army.
Meanwhile, authorities in the northern port of Cartagena seized 12 tons of cocaine believed to belong to Rastrojos traffickers and bound for Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. Reports of drug caches being seized in Colombia are common, but 12 tons of cocaine is a significant amount and worth about $360 million. That’s more than all of what Mexico seized last year.