The National·Analysis

Following the money behind Venezuela's coup

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Behind the political protests erupting in Venezuela, Canada braces for pork price increases amid African swine fever outbreak in China.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country's rightful interim ruler, whips up support in Caracas, Venezuela on April 30, 2019. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido's political uprising takes shape as thousands take to the streets in protest of Nicolas Maduro's government.
  • How the spread of African swine fever in China could affect your wallet during barbecue season.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Unravelling Venezuela's coup

The "final phase" of opposition leader Juan Guaido's attempt to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from office began this morning — a popular uprising coupled with a military coup.

"Operation Liberty," as Guaido has dubbed it, has enlisted the support of some army officers and rank-and-file soldiers, and there are calls for more to defect to the cause.

The 35-year-old opposition leader is promising the largest political demonstrations in the country's history tomorrow, but tens of thousands are already in the streets of Caracas and other cities showing their support for the uprising.

An opposition demonstrator gestures in front of a burning bus, while holding a rock, near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase in Caracas. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

Police have used tear gas and water cannons against the crowds and national guard vehicles have been filmed driving into a cluster of stone-throwing protesters.

Guaido is telling his supporters that "the time is now" to overthrow the socialist regime, while Maduro has promised to show "nerves of steel" in facing down the attempted coup.  

Whatever the outcome, it's a significant escalation in the crisis that has gripped the country since Maduro's disputed re-election almost a year ago.

Annual inflation hit more than 1.3 million per cent last year, and almost 80 per cent of Venezuelan households can't afford enough to eat. Major blackouts have hobbled what's left of the economy and millions of people have fled the country.

Now comes the very real threat of violent conflict.

More than 50 countries, including Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., already recognize Guaido, who heads the opposition-controlled National Assembly as the country's interim president.

But today, there's little question that his strongest support is found in Washington.

The White House won't say whether it had advance knowledge of the coup attempt, but Mike Pompeo, the U.S. secretary of state, used an event in Washington last night to issue a stern warning to Maduro's few remaining international backers.

"Maduro is going to leave," he said, claiming that the governments of Cuba, Russia and China "will be in a far better place if they choose a different path," and side with the Venezuelan opposition, making note of sanctions that the U.S. government has recently imposed against Havana.

Russia has loaned billions to Maduro's government, and created waves last month by sending two military aircraft to Caracas, carrying 100 advisors and 32 tonnes of equipment.

And just yesterday, in an interview with the Miami Herald, Guaido claimed that Cuba has dispatched as many as 40,000 military and intelligence advisors to Venezuela, including 2,500 who are there to "track and persecute" opposition supporters within Venezuela's armed forces.

For the moment, however, it doesn't appear that the Americans intend to dispatch their own forces to Venezuela. Or even pay for somebody else's soldiers.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido talks to media outside the airforce base La Carlota on April 30, 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela. (Rafael Briceno/Getty Images)

Reuters reported Tuesday that the White House turned down a recent proposal from Erik Prince, the founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater, to hire and dispatch up to 5,000 private soldiers to support Guaido's efforts to topple Maduro.

The plan was reportedly judged too dangerous and "far-fetched," although Prince's own political baggage might have also been an issue. House Democrats are pushing the Justice Department to open an investigation into whether the security contractor lied to Congress about his efforts to act as a go-between for the White House and the Kremlin, as detailed in the Mueller Report.

What Guaido does have going for him is financial muscle.

Back in February, the Trump administration gave the Venezuelan opposition access to U.S. bank accounts containing billions belonging to the state-owned oil company, PDVSA.

And the Americans have been busy trying to cut off Maduro's access to foreign funds, imposing sanctions and stepping in to pressure the Bank of England to deny the Venezuelan government's request to transfer $1.2 billion US in gold stored in their U.K. vaults. Or, more recently, leaning on the International Monetary Fund to close a $400 million US line of credit.

Antonio Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, is urging both sides in Venezuela to avoid violence and focus on a negotiated solution.

But there are also indications that Guaido might have launched his coup before he was fully ready. So far, the uprising seems to be lacking support from the military's top brass. A function, some report, of the opposition leader moving up the date because Maduro was about to carry through on his threat to have him arrested.


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Bracing for an expensive BBQ season

As African swine fever hits China, CBC News Senior Business Correspondent Peter Armstrong explores what that means for Canadian pork prices and the future of the pork industry in Canada.

Attention breakfast lovers and barbecue enthusiasts; the prices of bacon, ribs and pork chops are set to rise this summer. A swine fever sweeping through Asia has forced officials in China to slaughter millions of hogs. That's prompted a global shortage, which is already driving up prices.

"Inventories in Canada are starting to be depleted," says Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at

Dalhousie University. "Grocers who want to sell us bacon and ribs will become increasingly desperate to find product to sell us especially during the BBQ season."

A global pork shortage could be driving up prices during this year's barbecue season. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

The African Swine Fever isn't dangerous to humans but it's highly infectious and causes skin lesions, haemorrhaging and death in pigs. 

China makes up nearly half the global pork consumption market. So, any disruption there has vast and profound ripple effects on the rest of the world.

Murray Thunberg raises five different breeds of heritage pigs on his farm in Cambridge, Ont. Looking out over a field of American Hereford, Gloucestershire Old Spots and British Saddlebacks, Thunberg isn't so worried about the impact on price. His biggest fear is what will happen when and if African Swine Fever is found on a North American pig farm.

"It's a really scary time," he says, adding that's the appeal of his heritage breeds of pig.

"They were bred not only for maternal instincts and good legs but they were built for strong immune systems," he says.

"You have to wonder if we stuck with the old way of doing things that we could have bred resistance to a lot of these diseases."

An African Swine Fever outbreak in China is changing the global pork market. (Shutterstock)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture warned there is a "high" likelihood that the disease could enter the U.S. through the illegal import of pork products.

Charlebois says a single case found on a Canadian farm would have an immediate impact.

"If we get a case, we could actually re-experience what we saw in 2003 with mad cow where overnight we saw 35 countries issue an embargo on Canada's cattle industry and cattle futures went down 70 per cent overnight," he says.

Bacon prices have already soared, though most of us haven't noticed. Charlebois calls it the shrinkage phenomena. A 500 gram package of bacon used to cost around $5. Over the past few years, that package has quietly "shrunk" to 375 grams without changing price. He expects that will continue this summer. 

"Less for more" isn't exactly the summer slogan pork enthusiasts were hoping for.

- Peter Armstrong

  • WATCH: How African swine fever could affect your wallet during barbecue season tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online.

NHL playoffs

The National will be delayed on the CBC television network tonight due to the NHL playoffs. The show will air at its usual time, 9 p.m. ET, on News Network and online.


A few words on ... 

Sri Lanka's intelligence failure.


Quote of the moment

"Both cyclones have shattered families and destroyed livelihoods. The loss of life is devastating. Those who were already living on the brink of poverty have now been left with nothing ... We're facing a critical situation."

-Nicholas Finney, a response team leader with Save the Children, on the effects of Cyclone Kenneth, the second major storm system to hit Mozambique in the past six weeks.


What The National is reading

  • China sentences Canadian to death for drug operation (CBC)
  • Congo registers record 27 new Ebola cases in one day (Africanews)
  • Secret list of SNC execs, employees who made illegal donations to Liberals revealed (CBC)
  • OPEC oil output hits four-year low in April, on Iran, Venezuela sanctions (Reuters)
  • B.C. man ordered to pay $500K cost of fighting 2012 fire (CBC)
  • Japanese Emperor Akihito abdicates, Crown Prince to ascend (NPR)
  • France fines hundreds under new anti-harassment law (BBC)
  • Indian Army's claim to have found footprints of Yeti prompts ridicule (Guardian)
  • Donkeys hate the British weather and would rather be inside, study finds (Telegraph)

Today in history

April 30, 1985: Will Canada's Senate ever be reformed?

Spoiler: Not bloody likely. But there's a certain delight in hearing Keith Morrison use his still scary pre-Dateline voice to talk about an "equal, effective and elected" upper chamber.

A 1985 documentary probes how, if ever, reform can come to Canada's Senate. 15:55

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.

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